Ignore intra-African and domestic tourism at your peril. That’s the word from Rashid Toefy, Deputy Director- General, Western Cape Government Department of Economic Development and Tourism speaking at Indaba 2019.
With 73% of global tourism spend focussed on domestic tourism, the opportunities for African tourism destination to attract intra-African or domestic travel are huge, said Toefy addressing delegates at the African travel event in Durban.
“The African Continental Free Trade Agreement is going to be a game changer. It will be as big for Africa as the EU was for Europe. Tourism itself is a game changer for reducing poverty and growing economies, but we need to look at how we retain tourism spend on the continent, in its regions and in countries,” said Toefy.
Africa is the next tourism economic hotspot and has fabulous iconography, added Rick Taylor, CEO The Business Tourism Company. “I can feel the momentum growing and we are seeing companies investing. The pendulum has already swung into East Africa,” he said.
According to Taylor, governments are starting to “get it”. “We’re seeing the connections happening already,” he said.
Connectivity across Africa has been a major obstacle to the growth of intra-regional and domestic tourism. “A few years ago, you would have to fly via Paris to get to West Africa. Slowly the landscape is starting to change, and we are starting to connect the iconography is with airlines.” Taylor cited the example of the link between the gorilla trekking experience in Kigali with Table Mountain in Cape Town made possible through Rwandair flights.
Toefy also highlighted how other air hubs across the continent are starting to improve access across Africa such as Nairobi and Ethiopia. “We need to make use of the connectivity in other parts of the continent,” he said.
A further obstacle to intra-regional travel is that prices are high and the experience sometimes low. Taylor says lack of competition means that when occupancies are high, hotels can command the rates they want.
“When we introduced the MICE strategy in Rwanda, things started changing. With more visitors, we needed more airline seats into the country and more accommodation. We saw brands starting to invest in the destination. With that came job creation and the hotel prices softened because there was competition,” explains Taylor.
Tourism, he said, is the most competitive business in town. Nowhere has to go anywhere, so why should they come to your region? If you make it difficult for tourists to visit, they have a choice of many other countries to visit. This is especially true when visa requirements are onerous.
The challenge is how do we excite our own citizens about what we have to offer, asks Jeffreys Manjengwa, Executive Director at Zimbabwe Tourism Authority.
“We need to create experiences to attract the domestic market. Our local attractions are not as exciting to our own citizens as we would like them to be because they’ve been created with the international market in mind. We have to challenge ourselves to create exciting destinations for our citizens. It can be done,” says Manjengwa.
Africans have to get to know Africa, was the consensus amongst the panelists. “The barriers to increased travel, visa requirements and the cost of travel among others, has to be resolved so that together we can promote the African continent,” he says.
As Africans, we need to get our governments on board and keep hammering home the benefits of the industry, says Taylor. “It is a key industry which generates jobs. And while Africa may not be the promised land, we are a continent of tremendous promise.”