Africa is blessed with tourist attractions, but one big mess; “insecurity” remains a thorn in the continent’s tourism earning, a top United Nations official said on Tuesday.
At the opening of a 3-day 41st Annual World Tourism Conference in Rwanda’s capital Kigali, Dr. Mukhisa Kituyi – Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said that violence across the continent remains a challenge to tourism.
“The dynamics of tourism in Africa could be totally different if violence wasn’t a dominant force in some of our countries,” Kituyi said.
The UNCTAD Secretary General said if the continent significantly dealt with the vice, tourism would take strides to even higher levels.
From every corner of Africa, he said, there are tourist attractions, but one of the biggest mess has deterred the continent from living to its tourism dreams.
Kituyi insists that sustainable security has been a catalyst in favouring tourism growth. Referring to Rwanda’s security as part of what has triggered the country’s booming tourism, Kituyi jokingly said; “Even Mountain gorillas have found it easier to live in peaceful Rwanda than in the neighbourhoods.”
For Kituyi, “Tourism is driven by peace and sometimes peace can be driven by tourism.”
Rwanda is one of only three countries in the world where the critically endangered mountain gorillas live.
With only an estimated 880 Gorillas left in the world, bigger part – under twelve families of mountain gorillas that roam the vast volcano park are a major tourist attraction. Due to insecurities in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Gorillas in Rwanda find it safer compared to their neighbours.
The gorillas take up to 90% of government revenues from national parks. In 2016, Rwanda earned $404 million from tourism. The target is to raise $444 million in 2017.
Gituyi warned against African media practitioners not helping promote tourism on the continent and instead fuel insecurities.
“Narratives in African media are not helping tourism. They instead emphasize negatives like terror attacks,” he said.
He challenged governments to stop putting much of their budgets in traditional sectors with ‘low returns’ and invest more in profitable services especially tourisms, without ignoring the African tourists within the continent.
“Don’t ignore value of African tourists within Africa, it’s the fastest growing group.” According to Kituyi, Intra Africa tourism has grown. “It is 12months, not seasonal – accounting for 44% of total tourism performance.”
The UNCTAD chief said Africa government should follow Rwanda’s efforts in promoting services sectors – a case he said, “Paul Kagame continues to lead by example which is important for the region and the whole continent.”
Rwanda doing all to promote tourism
President Kagame, who officiated the opening of the conference, said Rwanda, “like others on our continent is keen to convert our favourable demographics into economic growth and prosperity.”
Rwanda – a landlocked country, has embarked on investing in services sector as a big driver to the economy. One in 11 jobs globally is found in tourism.
For President Kagame, “The Services sector, in particular tourism, provides some of best opportunities for citizens and attractive careers for young people. This sector is Rwanda’s biggest foreign exchange earner, but we can and should do better.”
Kagame, however, added that harnessing the full potential of tourism industry will require continued focus and investment on several fronts.
“We will soon have a more modern, efficient base, when the new Bugesera International Airport is completed. Our national carrier RwandAir continues to expand to destinations within Africa and beyond,” Kagame said.
Apparently Rwandair has embarked on its expansion plans across the continent and beefed up its flights purchasing new planes.
Last month, the carrier opened its route to Cotonou in Benin, and plans to start flying new routes to three West African cities- Libreville in Gabon, Brazzaville in the Republic of Congo, and Abidjan, Ivory Coast, at the end of September, 2017.
The airline is already flying direct from Kigali to London and is planning to launch flights to New York and new Asian destinations, including Guangzhou in China in the near future.
With such bankable projects, Kagame said, “We want to strengthen collaboration within our region and across the continent. The single tourist visa and passport-free travel with Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda is already a reality.”
To continue promoting tourism in the country, Kagame said Rwandans, especially those living around parks and other attractions, have become indispensable to conservation.
Florizelle Liser President and CEO of Corporate Council on Africa (CCA), said Rwanda has stood out as an example of what the world should follow to promote tourism.
“In many ways, Rwanda is a shining example of opportunities in African tourism and a reason why CCA and ATA were pleased to partner with Rwanda Development Board in organizing this conference.
President Kagame’s decision to address our delegates today truly highlights the importance of the tourism sector as a driver of economic growth,” she said.
Earlier this week, the Africa Travel Association (ATA) hosted the “Boost your business” training initiative in partnership with Facebook at Serena Hotel in the capital Kigali.
The three-day conference taking place at Radisson Blu and Convention Centre brings together African leaders, airlines, logistics managers, hoteliers and tour operators among others.