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Relax visa rules to increase tourists visits to Africa

BY: Seth J. Bokpe

South Africa’s Minister of Tourism, Mr Derek Hanekom, had rallied the continent’s leaders to relax visa regulations and sign the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), meant to drive down airfares to increase tourist inflow to the continent.

He said the two actions would break down barriers that stand in the way of high tourists’ inflows to the continent which makes it lag the global average.

According to UNWTO statistics, the overall tourism contributions to gross domestic product (GDP in Africa is still well below the global average of 10.4 per cent of GDP.

Unrealised potential

That, Mr Hanekom said was because “that we have huge unrealised potential to unlock.”

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“We need to action the AU Agenda 2063 – especially with respect to free movement of people everywhere on the continent, and the easing or dropping of visa requirements in the next few years to enable this.

“We need to work on all countries signing the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), signed by only 23 countries so far. It’s intended to drive down airfares by allowing more airlines to freely access and increase frequency of flights to more countries. We need to be united in our aspiration to build and brand Africa as a continent of successes and opportunity,” he said at the opening ceremony of 2019 Travel Indaba in Durban, South Africa today (May 2).

Thousands of players in the African travel and tourism industry have converged in Durban, a coastal city in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal Province for this year’s Travel Indaba to discuss the future of tourism on the continent.

The three-day event starting today (May 2) to May 4 is taking place at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre.
Speaking to policy makers and industry players at the largest gathering of travel tourism stakeholders in Africa, he cited the example of Ethiopia which had seen a jump in its tourism growth.

Ethiopia was Africa’s fastest growing travel economy (and the world’s, for that matter) growing by 48.6 per cent in 2018.

“This extraordinary growth is mostly attributed to Ethiopia’s success in establishing itself as regional transport hub.

“Air Ethiopia must be acclaimed for bringing volumes of tourists to the whole African continent. Visa relaxation also played a significant role in spurring Ethiopia’s growth, something again which many of our countries could learn from, especially South Africa,” he said.

Other top performers include Egypt and Kenya.

Although the African Union wants its member states to open their borders to Africans to enhance prospects for intracontinental trade and tourism, just like the European Union, the plan has seen little in terms of action.

Currently, only four countries-- Ghana, Rwanda, and Kenya— issue a 90-day visa on arrival for all Africans.

Offerings

Turning to Africa’s tourism offerings, he said the continent had an innate ability to respond to the desire of tourists for experiential authentic travel.

“Africa offers exuberant welcomes and big-hearted hosting of our tourists, catering for their needs professionally, and sharing our cultures in memorable ways.

“We offer what tourists are increasingly looking for: meaningful experiences, meeting real people in their homes and communities, experiencing local traditions and customs. This kind of tourism generates real community benefits.

“Our offer of this unique blend of culture, heritage, nature-based, rural and urban experiences make Africa a rich and varied, all-year destination, which can offer real value for money, and a quality visitor experience that is diverse and unique to the world,” he said.

On domestic tourism, he said all countries in Africa had potential for domestic tourism growth adding that intra-continental tourism from Africa’s rapidly growing economies and growing middle class was an opportunity begging to be exploited.

“We need improved collaborative efforts between our countries to achieve this,” he added.

Mr Sihle Zikalala,the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Minister for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, also urged tourism authorities on the continent to leverage public private partnerships to develop tourism in Africa.

The Travel Indaba

It offers industry players and its stakeholders an opportunity to meet and engage on the challenges and opportunities that affect the advancement of tourism on the continent.

The event showcases the widest variety of the continent’s best tourism products and attracts international buyers and media from across the world.

Indaba not only provides a vital platform for buying and selling of tourism products but also provides a platform for collaboration and dialogue around issues and policies affecting tourism.

Indaba is Africa's biggest travel and trade show with over 7 000 delegates from 80 countries attending last year's event.