This week, tourism ministers, tour operators, and communications firms gathered in Durban, South Africa, for the 2014 Tourism INDABA Trade Fair (pictured). Nearly 4,000 delegates and dignitaries attended the largest travel conference in Africa, which featured presentations, new marketing campaigns, and a beach party themed “Ekasi Shisanyama.”
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Pan-African cooperation and aviation were high on the agenda due to the high-port taxes, customs procedures, high fares, and aging airports that make the continent uncompetitive in the global travel market. Speaking at a special business breakfast, the Seychelles Minister for Tourism and Culture Alain St.Ange said, “You may think me a dreamer, but I’m not the only one,” quoting singer John Lennon‘s famous line and referring to a new approach that is needed to enable Africa to capitalize more efficiently on its huge tourism assets.
This year was the first time the event shifted to a pan-African focus with South African Tourism Chief Executivee Thulani Nzima stating, “It is co-optation — we agree to compete but we agree to cooperate at the same time,” referencing the rising economic prowess of African nations beyond South Africa but the continued uphill battle around visa regulations and general perceptions about the continent that still persist globally.
Kenya, whose tourism industry tanked after last September’s Westgate Mall Shooting, made a strong effort to woo tourists back to the country; the Kenya Tourism Board (KTB) lead a delegation of about 20 firms from the local travel and hotel industry for the exhibition. KTB Managing Director Muriithi Ndegwa said the exhibition will provide a platform for Kenya to reassure tourists of their safety while in the country.
While East and South Africa made huge waves at INDABA, notably absent from the coverage and highlights of the event was West Africa.
With its beachside locations, economic growth, and connections to the historic African Diaspora, the region must begin to take tourism more seriously if it wants to diversify its revenue stream beyond oil and other natural resources.