Africa’s tourism officials grimly acknowledge that they will have to throw their collective weight behind a “Brand Africa” to attract to the continent more of the nearly one trillion tourists who travel the world each year.
The United Nations World Tourism Organization expects the number of tourists to Africa to grow by 4 to 6 percent in 2012, a rate matching that of Asia and the Pacific, but higher than projections for Europe (2 percent to 4 percent), the Americas (2 percent to 4 percent), the Middle East (0 percent to 5 percent) and the world as a whole (3 percent to 4 percent). But that relatively high growth rate will still leave the continent with a miniscule share of global tourist arrivals. With 50 million arrivals in 2011, Africa took in just about 5 percent of the world’s 980 million arrivals for the year. The 50 million included a year-on-year gain of two million, or 7 percent, by sub-Saharan Africa, but the gain was offset by a 12 percent loss in North Africa, a fallout from the region’s violent anti-government protests in the spring.
Calls for concerted, continentwide promotion were strident at a Tourism Ministers’ Roundtable in Zimbabwe in May, convened as part of the Africa Travel Association’s 37th Annual World Congress. “We need to speak in one voice and in solidarity with one another, during good times, as well as in challenging times. Everyone goes to ‘Africa,’ not just one country, so we need to present ourselves as ‘Brand Africa,’” declared Walter Mzembi, Zimbabwe’s minister of tourism and hospitality and newly elected president of ATA.
Tourism ministers from the Central African Republic, Ghana, Namibia, Togo, Uganda and Zimbabwe participated in the roundtable. In the audience were official representatives from Angola, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Togo and Zambia, along with hundreds of private-sector attendees from around the world. “Africa is clearly not sharing in the global percentage of tourism benefits,” lamented Ephraim Kamuntu, minister of tourism, wildlife and heritage for Uganda, which will host ATA’s 38th Congress next year.
Held May 18 – 22 in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe’s “adventure capital,” the 2012 ATA Congress was hosted by the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority under the auspices of Mzembi’s ministry. South African Airways served as presenting sponsor and official carrier and Arik Air, the privately owned Nigerian airline, served as the official media carrier. The annual congress is the travel industry’s largest gathering devoted solely to promoting tourism in Africa. This year’s theme, “Africa Tourism: Partnering for the Future,” articulated the most pressing issue for the continent’s tourism industry: how to capitalize on growing confidence in emerging economies, projections for higher growth in tourist arrivals and on ATA’s 2010 partnership agreement with the Caribbean Tourism Organization in which each side pledged to promote tourism, increase business opportunities and develop sustainable tourism in the other’s region.
Tourism is one of the fastest-growing industries globally and one of the most promising for economic development. Hailed for its potential to alleviate poverty through the creation of jobs, small businesses and rural development, it accounts for 30 percent of the world’s exports in services and is the primary source of foreign exchange for most developing countries. Many African countries are looking to stimulate their economies through tourism.
Baba Jamal, Ghana’s deputy minister of tourism, announced in Zimbabwe, for example, that Ghana recently passed a law requiring the hospitality industry to contribute 1 percent of its income to a fund that will be used to enhance and maintain tourism sites, including national parks and areas around waterfalls. “We want to ensure that we alleviate poverty through tourism, alleviate unemployment through tourism and that we bring some joy to the people,” he said.
The ATA Congress in Zimbabwe covered such critical topics as Internet and social media marketing strategies; the engagement of women and youth; exploiting local natural and cultural “assets”; public-private partnerships; barriers to tourism development; travel and visa facilitation; and the impact of travel warnings against countries. In a bow to tourism’s growing emphasis on local content, the 37th Congress introduced the “ATA Culinary Experience,” spearheaded by noted Senegalese Chef Pierre Thiam. The “experience” took the form of a luncheon featuring local delicacies, prepared by culinary students from Zimbabwe’s Bulawayo School of Hospitality and Tourism Studies and chefs from Victoria Falls’ top hotels.
Ghana’s Jamal touted the benefits of heritage tourism, noting that Ghana is home to 80 percent of the slave castles still standing on the continent. “People are talking about bringing the African Diaspora back to Africa to discover their roots. We started that some ten years ago, people who attend Panafest will attest. We take you through what our ancestors went through at the last point, when they entered the ships and never came back to Africa,” he said. Launched in 1992, the Pan African Historic and Theatre Festival, or Panafest, is held every two years in Ghana. It runs from July 20 to August 2 this year, with the theme “Development of the Motherland: The Role of People of African Descent.”
Sylvie Annick Mazoungou, minister of development of tourism and handicraft in the Central African Republic, blamed existing barriers to tourism development on African governments themselves, saying they do not appreciate the value of their local assets, which, in turn, affects the level of investment in the sector. “The constraints in developing tourism in Africa are our own fault. For example, there are barriers that prevent tourists from circulating freely. We should now have a single visa that would allow free movement throughout our region so that tourists can go freely to all of the countries in the sub region,” she said. Southern Africa is currently working on the introduction of a univisa that will provide greater access to those countries.
Minister Mazoungou condemned as another barrier the practice whereby military and police personnel force those who enter a country to pay a tax that does not exist. “Today, we must really make a concerted effort to ensure that tourism in Africa really produces results. And there is another effort we must make: to ensure that our populations understand the wealth that tourism represents, and how everyone can be involved in all activities to promote tourism,” she stressed.
Striking a cautionary note, Dawid de Villiers, chairman of the UN World Tourism Organization’s Committee on Tourism Ethics, urged adherence to a code of ethics in tourism. He said, “A global code of ethics for tourism provides an ethical roadmap for responsible and sustainable tourism. Not all tourism is good. It can propagate serious environment degradation, pollution, discrimination against women and exploitation of women and girls.”
The engagement of women in tourism was a new topic for the ATA Congress. According to the UNWTO, tourism has twice as many women employees worldwide than any sector. Women entrepreneurs in the industry own mostly small lodges and other small operations, rarely large enterprises, and only 10 percent of women are in leadership positions. “We need an environment that is conducive to women development in tourism. The banks are not friendly to us,” complained Olivia Muchena, Zimbabwe’s minister for women’s affairs.
While most, if not all, African countries have adopted women-friendly laws, the issue of ownership is still a nettlesome one for women, said Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, Namibia’s minister of tourism. “For women in small businesses, it’s hard to make those businesses grow. You have to fight for power in a very positive way. We need to be determined, we need to be positive. We should not put ourselves in the circle of concern, we should put ourselves in the circle of influence,” she said, and added, “In Namibia, tourism is a white-dominated industry and we are fighting for Blacks, men and women, to get in.”
Women hold great sway in tourism in North America, a fact Africa’s tourism outreach must take into consideration, warned Adele Black, founder and president of Affluent Hospitality Group, a New York travel company catering to upscale tourist and hospitality markets worldwide. “Africa’s message must reach women in America [where] 80 percent of the decision making on where to go on vacation is made by women and 80 percent of the travel agencies are headed by women,” she said.
ATA’s 37th Congress yielded “significant outcomes that will have a positive impact on the tourism industry in Zimbabwe and across Africa,” Edward Bergman, the association’s executive director, said. “Now more than ever, the tourism industry has a greater ability to affect lives and contribute to positive growth and development and ATA is pleased to be at the heart of this process.”
Zimbabwe Tourism Minister Mzembi pledged to use his two-year presidency of the ATA to begin the task of raising Africa’s share of global tourism to double digits by 2020. “The work begins now. We are so worried about our participation in global tourism,” he told The Network Journal and other U.S. media organizations. “Tourism generates $1.2 trillion in direct income and has an impact on global GDP of $6 trillion. My objective for the next two years is to set a new agenda for Africa, where we begin to increase our participation and market share.”