To mark World Tourism Day on September 27, 2017, the African Development Bank has called for collaborative actions from all stakeholders for sustainable tourism development in Africa. The Bank recognizes that Africa’s tourism and travel industry can serve as an engine of progress for socioeconomic transformation.
The United Nations’ World Tourism Day, with the theme ‘Sustainable Tourism − a Tool for Development’, presents a unique opportunity to raise awareness about the contribution of sustainable tourism among public and private sector decision-makers and the international community.
In addition to its investments in tourism infrastructure (ports, airports, roads and rail, among others), the AfDB is promoting the creative and cultural industries to diversify the economic base of African countries and attract tourism.
Through the Visa Openness Index initiative, and in line with its High 5 development priorities, the AfDB is promoting regional integration, trade and investment by easing the movement of people, and ultimately promoting tourism.
Also, the Bank’s yearly African Tourism Monitor publication provides a forum for stakeholders in Africa’s tourism and travel industry to come together and present new ideas and initiatives than can revolutionize the sector.
Enhancing tourism through the cultural and creative industries
The Bank has, through various initiatives, given tourism development a new focus. The AfDB sees the enormous untapped potential of the cultural and creative industries, such as textiles, fashion, food, culinary arts and film, and the promise they offer to boost tourism on the continent, and create jobs closer to home. Tourism also provides an important source of employment and revenue creation.
Africa boasts of a rich and diverse cultural heritage – from UNESCO World Heritage Sites to film and music festivals to world-class gastronomy – as well as natural assets: its people, its dramatic landscapes, its beaches and wildlife. With the right infrastructure and accessibility, the continent has everything it takes to be a preferred tourism destination.
Through its Fashionomics Africa initiative, the AfDB is supporting the development of creative industries that utilize local products, especially cotton, in Africa. The Bank’s Food Cuisine Africa platform connects key players and newcomers in the food industry in Africa. The AfDB aims to empower and improve the lives of young African adults by giving them skills and mentorship in the food sector and create jobs all along the value chain, from farm to fork.
Indeed, creative industries can diversify the economic base of African countries and attract tourism.
Omoyemi Akerele, founder of Lagos Fashion and Design Week, stressed how the fashion industry fuels sustainable tourism.
“Fashion weeks [fashion industry events] generate considerable foot traffic for cities like Lagos, which hosts the annual Lagos Fashion and Design Week. But there needs to be a deliberate attempt on the part of African governments to tap into the potential that fashion has to grow the tourism industry,” Akerele said.
Visa openness and the free movement of people
AfDB’s Visa Openness Index measures how open African countries are when it comes to visas by looking at what they ask of citizens from other countries in Africa when they travel.
The African Union Commission’s Agenda 2063 proposes the creation of an African passport and an end to visa requirements for all African citizens. Specifically, visa openness is seen as having great potential to improve interconnectivity, boost economic growth and trade, and spur investment, bringing massive benefits for the travel and tourism industry.
Visa openness blends with AfDB’s ‘Integrate Africa’ agenda, which seeks to make Africa more open, prosperous and interconnected. Mauritius and Rwanda, which are in the top 10 most visa-open countries, have adopted visa-on-arrival policies for visitors from other African countries and have seen a big increase in tourism, investment and economic competitiveness as a result.
After adopting a visa-on-arrival policy, Rwanda witnessed a 22% annual increase in the number of tourism arrivals for meetings, conferences and events. Many visitors in turn have become investors in the country.
“Of course, visa openness is not the solution to all problems, structural aspects such as the size of the market, infrastructure connectivity, and purchasing power are as important. Visa openness is really a quick-win,” said Jean-Guy Afrika, Principal Policy Expert at the AfDB.
Ingredients for a sustainable and resilient tourism industry
The 2017 Africa Tourism Monitor – an annual research publication by the African Development Bank in collaboration with New York University Africa House and the Africa Travel Association – highlights the importance of developing a sustainable and resilient tourism industry through innovation, entrepreneurship and technology.
“With this renewed global focus on sustainable tourism, now is the time for all African countries to craft economic and trade policies that will foster inclusive and green tourism growth, intra-Africa trade, and contribute to visa openness for a borderless and interconnected continent,” an extract from the 2017 Africa Tourism Monitor stated.
Interconnectivity requires more than common passports and more open borders. The AfDB has for many years highlighted infrastructure development as one of its focal priorities to facilitate accessibility and trade across the continent.
Indeed, the Bank’s assistance has ranged from modernizing air transport systems in Morocco, to supporting the Nairobi-Addis road corridor, to improve access between Kenya and Ethiopia, to cite just a few examples.
The Bank is also supporting the construction of a new terminal at Ghana’s Kotoka International Airport. The project is expected to make the country a destination of choice with a yearly target of 5 million passengers.
The United Nations declared 2017 as ‘International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development’. World Tourism Day provides an opportunity to take stock of how far the African continent has come in developing its tourism sector for the benefit of all, and what remains to be done to unlock its full potential to create jobs and improve the lives of Africans.
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