Tourism crucial to ‘all areas’ of African development

Tourism has taken a hit due to a number of crises, but is still seen as a sector than can significantly contribute to development. [Andrew Hurley/Flickr]

Politicians and businessmen met Thursday (21 January) at the Tourism Investment and Business Forum for Africa (INVESTOUR) and have highlighted the importance of “authenticity” in tourism and sustainable development. EURACTIV’s partner El País – Planeta Futuro reports. 

Tourism is a powerful weapon in African development and experts have warned that it must be used shrewdly to maintain the balance between growth and sustainability. If it is overexploited, then the essence of Africa that lures travellers to the continent could be destroyed.

To this end, various pavilions showcasing the colour, diversity and uniqueness of Africa have been erected at the International Tourism Fair of Madrid. The goal is to grow the sector and provide tourists with basic essentials and quality infrastructure. “Tourists want to experience our culture, but they also want clean running-water, electricity and good roads,” explained Elizabeth Ofosy-Adjare, Ghana’s Minister for Tourism.

Ofosy-Adjare listed the high-profile names that currently have hotels in her country, such as Ibis and Marriot, and explained that their collaboration had benefitted Ghana through the creation of jobs and provision of services. “Governments have to be facilitators in allowing the private sector to develop,” she added.

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Fatuma Hirsi, Kenya’s head of tourism, lauded tourism as a sector that has the capability to trigger improvement in virtually all other areas. “Our health system benefits from tourism. Agriculture as well, it is one of the country’s main industries and is boosted by the increased demand for food,” Hirsi said.

The continent and its tourist development have taking a huge hit on account of the threat of terrorism in certain regions as well as the fear surrounding the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. According to official statistics, the sector showed a loss of 3% last year, even though growth had been forecasted. In 2015, the continent welcomed 60 million tourists, which accounted for 5% of global numbers. “In the coming years, we expect there to be an upward trend,” said Elcia Grandcourt of the World Tourism Organisation’s Africa office.  Amongst the available data, there are a number of different models, including the mass tourism that characterises North Africa and which has been hit hard by global instability, as well as the more sustainable tourism seen in Botswana and Kenya.

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Members of the African tourism sector have started to report the benefits it brings to their native countries. “Where tourism goes, communities improve. No just because of foreign money, but also because services are improved and the locals try and preserve the beauty of the area. Tourism definitely brings sustainability,” said Greg Bakunzi, a tourism operator in Rwanda.

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