A lot has been said about tourism’s potential to contribute to and grow the economy, to create jobs and to overcome poverty. It certainly has the potential to do all those things, but it should also be said that tourism has the potential to allow Africans to tell authentic African stories thereby creating a truer, fuller picture of Africa and address misconceptions that exist for foreign visitors. Apart from the usual benefits, that is why events like We Are Africa are invaluable. Delegates from across the continent and the world came together to do business and to tell real African stories from real people who are really in Africa.
We spoke to Ryan Wallace, event director for We Are Africa and Conservation Lab, about the importance of telling authentic African stories and how this will influence tourism and growth in Africa.
What was the mission of We are Africa and structuring it the way that Beyond Luxury Media did?
Ryan Wallace: Our mission as a community is to ‘rebrand African travel’ and demonstrate how Africa is on the cutting edge of hospitality with the greatest diversity of high-end travel experiences. We are bringing a more progressive and positive picture of Africa to the world via the different high-end hosted buyers and travel media that we host every year. We have, therefore, created a festival-like event to reflect our mission, with a huge pre-tour programme across the continent, an opening conference at Cape Town City Hall, three days of exhibition at Cape Town Stadium and incredible evening networking events throughout the week.
What difference does it make in the industry to tell real African stories?
Wallace: Africa is already and rightly known as the ‘safari place’, but many who have not visited perceive it just as a mashup of the Lion King and Out of Africa with lots of problems and, therefore, lots of reasons not to visit. Of course, the continent boasts the greatest wildlife shows on earth and many romantic, ‘untouched’ destinations but the stories cannot stop there, we would really be limiting our tourism potential if they did. It’s time to diversify our offering and replace the stories told about Africa with stories told by Africa, for Africa.
How will telling authentic African stories influence tourism in Africa?
Wallace: We know that the world has become increasingly overloaded with information and this is leading individuals to crave more and more for authentic stories and experiences. Fortunately, Africa excels at this and has endless captivating stories to tell. As people hear the diverse, homegrown stories they will see Africa in a completely different light and want to come more than ever and leave with the added benefit of feeling more connected to its people and its essence.
Comment on the othering of Africa by international spectators and how this presents a challenge to growth in Africa.
Wallace: As long as international spectators continue to have control over Africa’s narrative it will never truly be understood, we need to wrestle back the microphone! There is a huge opportunity for growth here because much of Africa has yet to be understood and discovered properly as a travel destination and it still remains the ‘hidden gem’ in terms of its global tourism potential. If we can change the narrative to reflect reality and remove the misguided and negative perceptions tourism will no doubt flourish.
Greatest misconceptions, in your opinion, of Africa?
Wallace: Wow, there are so many that need to be obliterated but for me it’s ultimately the notion that Africa is one story and that if you’ve been to one part of the continent you’ve seen it all. That’s why our strapline for We Are Africa is #NotOneStory. I’m all for unity and Pan-Africanism but we should also not hold back from celebrating the diversity of cultures, places, and experiences that this continent has to offer. It has been great to see the destination marketing in and around We Are Africa start to diversify and our community really celebrating the differences.