After a failed hope that Africa would escape the Covid-19 pandemic because of its tropical weather, the continent came under the grip of the virus around March 2020. One after the other, African countries shut their borders and impose lockdown. The development further strained the continent’s already fragile economy, bringing its tourism industry completely on its knees. However, the continent is preparing to bounce back, as plans shared under the auspices of the United Nations World Tourism Organization’s Regional Commission for Africa (CAF) raises hopes that the continent will soon get its tourism industry running again.
At the 63rd meeting of the World Tourism Organization’s Regional Commission for Africa (CAF) which held virtually on Monday, Ministers of Tourism from across the region with representatives of the African Union, the West African Monetary Union and from the private sector, totalling 140 participants from 30 countries, discussed plans for tourism recovery and resilience, and shared ideas for creating a stronger and better tourism sector.
The meeting reviewed key areas of UNWTO’s Agenda for Africa – a roadmap designed to guide the continent tourism toward sustainable growth up to 2030 – such as improving Africa’s tourism Infrastructure, boosting air connectivity, easing visa facilitation, ensuring the safety and security of tourists, investing in the development of human capital development, and improving the image of Africa to the rest of the world, as part of efforts towards tourism recovery.
Speaking during the meeting, Mr Zurab Pololikashvili, the UNWTO Secretary-General said “Africa’s tourism potential is undeniable, as is the potential of tourism to drive inclusive development across the continent. The steady easing of travel restrictions, first within nations and then across international borders, will allow the many social and economic benefits of tourism to return. If tourism’s restart is managed in a responsible and coordinated manner, harnessing the power of innovation and entrepreneurship, then it can transform millions of lives and help protect and preserve Africa’s rich cultural and natural heritage.”
The Nigerian Minister of Culture and Tourism, Mr Lai Mohammed, in his own contribution, called on African countries to focus on rural tourism after the pandemic to grow the industry from bottom up. “For us in Africa, after the pandemic, focusing on rural tourism will help speed up the recovery process in the Travel and Tourism Sector. This is because rural tourism employs more people in Africa, and here I am talking about arts, crafts, culture and heritage,” he said. He also called on the UNWTO to support Africa in the recovery process: “it is however imperative for the UNWTO to support Africa with a ‘Marshall Plan’ of sorts, in terms of technical assistance, capacity building and grants.”
Meanwhile, participants at the meeting welcomed various initiatives including the Brand Africa marketing competition and the new emphasis on showcasing African gastronomy, announced by the Secretary-General as part of measure to move African tourism towards sustainable tourism and job creation.
In the run-up to the meeting, UNWTO’s Member States took part in an online survey through which they were invited to share their thoughts on how the UNWTO Agenda for Africa can be utilized to accelerate recovery from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and build resilience for the future. Participants expressed a strong desire to see the top five key areas of the Agenda for Africa prioritized in order to support swift and sustainable recovery. These priorities are: unlocking growth through investment and through effective public-private partnerships; promoting innovation and technology; visa facilitation and enhanced connectivity; advocating for Brand Africa, and fostering greater resilience, including through enhanced safety and security for tourists.