Tourism ministers from across the African continent have agreed to form a forum uniting them in order to address cross-cutting issues affecting the growth of the industry across the globe.
Derek Hanekom, the South African tourism minister in a panel discussion moderated by CNN International anchor and journalist at the on-going INDABA 2016 travel show in Durban, South Africa, said the move was inspired by the realisation that what happens in other African countries affected the rest of Africa.
“We are all united in our aspiration to build and brand Africa as a continent of unparalleled opportunity. We have joined hands to make tourism a sector of hope and progress for our people. We must now focus on concrete actions to achieve our aspirations.”
INDABA, held annually in Durban, South Africa, is the third largest annual tourism expo in the world and the largest in Africa. It typically attracts between 8,000 and 11,000 of Africa’s tourism leaders, policy makers, global buyers and travel media seeking to promote tourism as a means of Africa’s economic growth and transformation.
This year’s 37th edition of the show is ongoing from May 7-9 at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre in Durban.
Speaking to the New Vision on the side lines of the discussion, Agnes Akiror, the tourism state minister, Uganda, who is also in attendance confirmed the move.
“Yes we had a meeting and agreed to complement each other rather than compete. The understanding is that we would be more competitive as a united force,” she said.
Akiror said the ministers agreed to start this cohesion at the regional bloc level on the continent and then later, through their respective heads of state, take the debate to the African Union, where a concrete decision will be taken.
She said that even while marketing tourism in regional blocs, the ministers agreed to address problems that might occur in other parts of the continent as way of creating awareness and allaying fears that might result from visitors misreading the situation.
Despite all its challenges, tourism on the African continent has been growing higher than anyway else in the world, boosting economies through creation of employment, foreign exchange and government taxes.
In Uganda alone, tourism overtook diaspora remittances and coffee to become Uganda’s biggest foreign exchange earner at $1.4b in 2013.
The United Nations World Tourism Organisation estimates that international tourist arrivals on the continent will grow by 4% this year. Tourist arrivals in Africa are expected to reach 130 million by 2030. This is more than double the 50 million arrivals we are currently receiving.
However, despite such positive developments, Hanekom said tourism in Africa still suffers from a competitive open skies policy where many African countries close their skies to African competitors in a bid to protect their local airlines. This, he said is one of the things that the tourism ministers forum could address.
“Air transport services remain a key constraint. Many major airlines fly to Africa from North America, Europe, and Asia. But, once visitors reach the continent, they encounter difficulties in travelling from country to country,” Hanekom says.
“If one quarter of African countries were to implement the Open Skies for Africa decision and facilitate greater air access between our countries, an additional 155,000 jobs and $1.3b in GDP could be generated, with obvious benefits for tourism.
Akiror said that in addition to opening up their skies to facilitate better intra-continental travel for visitors to the continent, the ministers had discussed the possibility of allowing Africans to travel within nations on the continent using their national identity cards, without compromising the security of nations, in the far off future
Apart from Akiror, Uganda is represented by tourism permanent secretary, Patrick Mugoya, Uganda Wildlife Authority, Civil Aviation Authority and Ugandan High Commission in South Africa. Eleven tour operators are representing the private sector.