It is common knowledge that Africa is endowed with abundant and impressive tourism attractions in terms of its wonderful and unspoilt natural resources, spectacular physical geography, impressive archaeological sites as well as a rich history and very divergent cultures that are yet to be explored by much of the global humankind. Yet, the challenges facing this industry are also numerous. There is outstanding work that has to be accomplished in order to ensure that all the tourism wealth of the continent generates expected benefits to the African peoples and to the world.
The African Union Commission through its New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) programme has put in place a Tourism Action Plan addressing the following important areas: Creation of an enabling policy and regulatory environment; Institutional capacity building; Promotion of tourism marketing; Promotion of research and development; Promotion of investment in tourism infrastructure and products; Mobilisation of financial resources; Establishment of code of conduct and ethics for tourism; and Strengthening of human resources and quality assurance. The AU/NEPAD Tourism Action Plan outlines key areas and strategies to be pursued by stakeholders in the development of the tourism industry in Africa. It guides participants in the sector to focus efforts and resources towards achieving common objectives in a cost-effective way.
To a large extent, under-performance in the tourism field stems from negative reporting of the continent in the global media. In most cases, natural and man made disasters get the limelight while positive developments are ignored. This has created a situation where there is widespread lack of awareness of the vast tourism potential in the continent. Both ignorance and negative image creates considerable skepticism in tourist generating countries even among Africans who would like to visit parts of their continent.
Another shortfall arises from the fact that tourism in Africa is mostly associated with Eco-tourism, that is, wildlife and natural reserves. While some of these are unique to Africa and attract a great number of visitors, there is a need to also promote the other aspects especially those highlighting the wealth of the continent in the history of human civilisation. These include mankind’s important monuments and various cultures. Exploitation of all these potentials would inevitably lead to the expansion of tourist traffic in the continent from sources within and without.
Other problems assailing tourism and travel trade in Africa include inadequate and poor infrastructure and tourism facilities; high travel costs and inflation relative to that in competing markets;
Despite the overwhelming constraints, there have been positive signs for the tourism and travel industry in Africa since the mid-1990s. According to the Tourism Vision 2020 report of the World Tourism Organisation (WTO), an average annual rise of 5.5% was envisaged in the international tourist arrivals in Africa between 1995 and 2020. A similar rate of growth was forecast for intra-African tourism. This is in spite of the prevalent weak financial situation of the majority of Africans.
The African tourism and travel industry needs to rise up to the challenge posed by the promising growth in both the externally-generated and intra-African tourist traffic. For example, bringing down the cost of travel to competitive levels should be a top priority objective of the industry. This could be achieved by designing special packages for the various market segments in collaboration with all the other service providers including transport operators, tour operators, hotel services, etc.
The industry would also need to be involved in the development of infrastructure and facilities. Improvement and expansion of transport, communications and energy infrastructure are critical and daunting tasks given the enormous resource outlay that would be required.
The tourism and travel industry could participate in resource mobilisation efforts either through direct investments in some projects of special interest to its businesses or by undertaking joint promotion of projects in which it is a major beneficiary. This may enhance the viability and, hence, credibility of many infrastructure projects to potential financiers.
A lot of innovation and dynamism is required in the tourism sector for it to be able to sustain a competitive edge and maintain a significant share in the global tourism and travel market. The tourism and travel industry is multi-sectoral and it is highly dependent on the activities of other sectors. In this regard, the industry players need to be open minded and ready to collaborate with various other parties in other fields in order to develop competitive products, and cost-effective packages.
By Dr. Elham M.A. Ibrahim,
African Union Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy.