By Mattew Weihs of Bench events
Last week I was in Angola for the UNWTO’s 56th Regional Seminar on Tourism and Air Connectivity (http://africa.unwto.org/). This was my first trip to Angola and it highlighted 3 things to me. Firstly, getting around Africa can be hard – my own flight, via Dubai, took 24 hours door to door and the VISA process was anything but easy. The Minister of Ghana, HE Ofusu-Agyare, spoke well of how her journey, as a relative neighbour of Angola, had taken her almost a full day to reach her destination having had to transit through South Africa. Air connectivity is a big opportunity for African travel. Secondly, that Angola has big plans for tourism development – their new airport will position them as a transit hub capable of landing A380s. As one airline expert explained to me this was, “a game changer” for Africa. Thirdly, with the UNWTO’s proposed policy on “zero tolerance” to poaching, there IS significant support coming from our industry to help control the poaching situation.
Having heard the plans of Angola to increase investment into the tourism sector it made me appreciate how much change is happening on the continent. If we think of where Angola was 20 years ago for them to be considering tourism as a way of diversifying their economy away from oil and natural resources is a sign of how fast change is taking place. However, with poor air connectivity and issues with obtaining VISAs there is clearly a long way to go before Angola can compete on the world stage but speaking to some tour operators on the ground in Angola, who currently deal with the expat community for weekend breaks mainly, the country is another hidden gem, untouched, beautiful and varied. The introduction of a large, transit airport shows the ambition to changing reliance on resources and, according to the vision, they expect these facilities to make a sudden impact on air travel across Africa.
John Arlidge summarised the current state of change on the continent in his article “Sheltering Skies” and our Advisory Board in March helped underline this message.
Trevor Ward from W Hospitality highlighted in his presentation that, for the first time, Sub-Saharan Africa has overtaken North Africa with the number of rooms in the development pipeline. Thomas Emanuel from STR Global concurred saying 2013 was a “tale of two sub continents” – Northern Africa demand fall 9.8%, where Southern African demand was up 3.7%.
2013 was a dramatic year of change and uncertainty. Such volatility around the world doesn’t help investment. We’ve seen issues in Turkey, Ukraine and Syria and AHIF witnessed the horrors of terrorism. The impact of which is still being felt by the Kenyan market. But as you can clearly see from this fascinating time lapse map of European boundaries… change happens – and we’ve all learnt to adapt.
But what surprises me, if we think about news for our industry across Africa specifically, it has been very positive. The introduction of the single visa by Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, the increase in pipeline, the introduction of more brands into the market and RevPAR has increased by 4.7% in the year. We still hear that we are starting from a low base but this “good news” does not surprise me considering Africa accounts for about 15% of the world population but it only receives about 3% of world tourism receipts and 5% of tourist arrivals.
Having two kids one of my favourite films now is the Lion King, as Rafiki says, “Change is good” – the perceptions of doing business across Africa are changing… We are seeing much more positive media coming from Africa – from peaceful elections such as in Kenya, to more stories of entrepreneurial success and ambitions of global businesses on the continent. And as I reflect back on theUNWTO’s Seminar I think one of the highlights was hearing the Government’s call to action to address the air connectivity issue. I was surprised at such a seminar that such a statement of intent would take place.
Finally, to hear the UNWTO call “zero tolerance” to addressing the poaching situation was one the industry must and will, I’m sure, support. AHIF is very proud to be raising funds to support the work of Tusk in 2014 (http://www.tusk.org/). Your ticket will help raise funds that will go straight to this great organisation but if you can dig a bit deeper this year we are also climbing Kilimanjaro to attempt to beat the world record for the highest game of cricket to help raise some funds and more profile to the issue…