Africa will need to work together as one destination if the continent’s tourism industry wants to attract much-needed investment for the future. That was the overriding message of tourism ministers from across Africa at the WTM Africa Ministerial Roundtable 2022.
“Africa is the future – without doubt,” said Dr Rifai, former Secretary General of the UNWTO, setting the tone for the rest of the conference. “We’re all Africans: we all came out of Africa. But Africa cannot be what it should be if the continent doesn’t work together.”
The ministers agreed that the challenges Africa still faces are numerous, and include poverty, climate change, accessibility and connectivity issues, visa obstacles and a divided approach to Covid regulations.
Balala, who is Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife, explained that to grow tourism to the continent it’s important to have seamless and unified Covid protocols that instil confidence in overseas travellers. According to Balala, Africa could triple the number of incoming travellers if all African countries worked better together to improve connectivity.
He emphasised that Africa should become a continental domestic market where air connectivity is number one and airfares can become more affordable. Rail transport is also important, as well as relaxation of visa regimes.
“Currently, only 26 cities in Africa are connected. We need connectivity by air and we need to stop monopolistic behaviours of African countries … Let’s open our minds – diversify products and markets and invest in change,” Balala expounded. “We need to grow together to grow faster, together.”
Zephanie Niyonkuru, Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the Rwanda Development Board, agreed and said Africa needs to come together to attract tourism and build a strong and resilient tourism industry.
Also Hon. Lindiwe Sisulu, South Africa’s Minister of Tourism, highlighted opportunities of a united approach for tourism. She said: “Africa is the best continent. We need to come together and say: come to Africa.”
In order for investment to happen, Ken Osei, Principal Investment Officer for the International Finance Corporation, explained that a coordinated approach is required. “Everyone is talking about the need for investment in tourism. The truth is, however, that capital is always looking for a good home. Investors will look for projects that bring a good return and that are bankable. So, the advice is to design tourism projects with purpose.”
Other elements to take into consideration, according to Osei, were public-private partnerships for funding, sustainable financing and green bonds. “We need to remember that tourism is part of a broader eco-system,” he said.
Humphrey Nwugo, Regional COO Afrexim Bank, agreed: “Capital is shy and only goes to where it is protected. Africa had the second fastest growing tourism sector in the world. Money must meet this opportunity but the opportunity needs to prepare itself to meet the requirements.”