By Kazeem Balogun
More than 200 public and private stakeholders in the African tourism sector including ministers of tourism, senior officials of national tourism boards from across the continent, airlines, hotels, travel agents and tour operators, as well digital platforms and service providers were present at the 41st World Tourism Conference held recently in Kigali.
The conference, which was developed to promote tourism as an engine for economic growth across Africa, was attended by Paul Kagame, President of the Republic of Rwanda, who delivered the keynote address. The event was staged in collaboration with the Rwanda Development Board (RDB).
In addition to Kagame, other notable guests included Dr. Mukhisa Kituyi, UNCTAD Secretary-General; Ms. Clare Akamanzi, CEO of RDB and the United States Ambassador to Rwanda, Erica Barks Ruggles.
Tourism industry leaders such as TripAdvisor, Expedia, MasterCard, Tastemakers Africa, Facebook, Uber, Afro Tourism, Tourvest, and Marriott International were also present.
“Rwanda, like other countries on the continent, is keen to convert our favourable demographics into economic growth and prosperity,” said President Kagame in his keynote address. “The services sector
– in particular, tourism – provides some of the best opportunities.”
Tourism is already doing well in Rwanda and the country is a strong example of how tourism can boost economic growth. The tourism sector is the country’s largest foreign exchange earner and Rwanda has liberalized its visa policies, which has led to a huge growth in tourists especially from Africa.
The government is also investing heavily in infrastructure including a new airport to support a growing number of tourists. President Kagame did note however, that more could still be done to grow Rwandan tourism especially by harnessing technology and the new opportunities technological innovation can bring.
“This conference is particularly important to us, because tourism plays a key role in Rwanda’s economy,” said Ms. Akamanzi, CEO of RDB, who welcomed attendees to Rwanda. According to her, Rwanda’s tourism receipts doubled between 2010 and 2016 to more than USD $400 million.
CCA President and CEO, Ms. Florie Liser focused on the unique role ATA and CCA will play in the sector’s development.
“Under CCA’s new vision and leadership, I would like to affirm our commitment to continuing the promotion of sustainable development of tourism to and within Africa through new initiatives,” said Ms. Liser.
One of those initiatives, ATAcademy, is a platform to support capacity building and inclusive growth for tourism professionals on the continent. The second initiative, ATA Connex, will focus on increasing investments in tourism through facilitated business- to-business and business-to-government linkages.
As part of the ATAcademy initiative, ATA hosted a series of capacity building sessions at the conference. Travel agents and tour operators attended sessions focused on North American travelers and on the tourism market and sustainability.
“The United States – we are pleased to say – accounts for the single largest source of tourism in Rwanda as well as the largest single bilateral foreign direct investment country,” said Ruggles.
UNCTAD Secretary-General, Dr. Mukhisa Kituyi, shared highlights of the recent UNCTAD report on African tourism.
“The most startling and interesting discovery in our study is that by far, the fastest growing tourism in Africa is intra-African tourism,” said Dr, Kituyi. “Intra-African tourism is 12 months a year.”
Over the last 10 years, intra- African tourism has grown from 34 percent to 44 percent of total African tourism revenues and is projected to be more than 50 percent in the next 10 years. Dr. Kituyi also emphasized a need to changeAfrica’s image perception and the importance ofpeace and security for tourism to thrive.
In less than 15 years, Africa’s travel and hospitality industries have quadrupled in size, and the continent remains one of the world’s fastest-growing tourist destinations, second only to Southeast Asia. The 41st World Tourism Conference featured more than 20 in- depth plenaries and breakout sessions with industry experts and professionals to discuss the latest trends and insights in African tourism and how best to grow the continent’s market share.
This year was the first time ATA’s Tourism Conference was hosted in Rwanda. The conference aligned with Kwita Izina, Rwanda’s annual gorilla naming ceremony, a national celebration creating awareness of the country’s efforts to protect the jewel of Rwanda’s tourism crown: the mountain gorillas and their habitat.