Indian Ocean rim countries today opened the way for a major initiative aimed at stimulating tourism in the region.
A special tourism forum held in Perth today as part of the State Government's `Into Asia' conference laid the groundwork for an Indian Ocean Rim Tourism Association to be formed.
The association would develop and promote tourism opportunities and address major issues affecting the region's tourism industry.
Premier Carmen Lawrence, in closing the conference this afternoon, said the State Government would provide the secretariat to the association.
The Government would consider holding a special Indian Ocean Rim Travel Mart in Perth next year, Dr Lawrence said.
This would involve all countries in the region and would be a drawcard for outbound tourist operators from Europe, America and other parts of Asia.
Dr Lawrence said there was tremendous challenge to increase the region's share of the world tourism market, which was forecast to more than double by the year 2010.
"From Western Australia's perspective, there is a very real need to look beyond our existing horizons and traditional precincts," Dr Lawrence said.
"For years Australia has seen itself, and been seen by others, as a Pacific Ocean nation.
"The `Into Asia' conference reflects the changing vision of WA to one that takes in the countries to the near north and to the west."
Tourism Forum chairman Sir Harry Tirvengadum said a working group of representatives of Indian Ocean rim countries (including Southern Africa, the Middle East, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia and Indian Ocean Islands) had been established.
He said there was a range of issues that member countries could address in a spirit of co-operation.
These included the need for a clear market identity and co-operative marketing; a review of visa restrictions; a centre for tourism education; increased air services and travel marts.
"Today's forum indeed marks the beginning of a new approach to tourism in the region," Sir Harry said.
"The spirit of co-operation shown by the 45 members of the forum has paved the way for an exciting era in promoting the countries of the Indian Ocean rim to the big markets of Europe, America and Asia."