Denis Gathanu, a Kenyan, is a publisher and owner of Safari Communications. He has travelled extensively within Africa including Nigeria where he has become a familiar face and done some work in the travel industry. He speaks with ANDREW IRO OKUNGBOWA on the state of the tourism industry in Africa and what needs to be done with particular reference to Nigeria in ensuring proper development of the industry while the people harvest its abundant yields.
What is your perception of African travel industry in terms of the prospects, promises and challenges?
AFRICA remains hugely undiscovered. Tourism today is not only one of the fastest growing sectors but tourism is one industry that encourages social cohesion while at the same time helps drive businesses within the supply chain. These include everything from aviation, infrastructure development, agribusiness, fisheries, wildlife management and conservation, communications and so on. This means that tourism in Africa has a humongous ripple effect that spreads to other sectors of the economy and provides the potential of creating millions of jobs and supporting millions of families. This leads to a socio-economic revolution that will transform the continent for the better. The cultural diversity of Africa also needs to be appreciated and harnessed to the fullest. We have unique cultural communities practicing unique cultural traditions and these need to, not only be tapped, but maintained for the sake of future generations. The wealth of information from some of these traditions needs to be recognised before it dies down. The challenges remain, mostly a lack of infrastructure such as roads, rail networks, communications and investments. The fact that the services sector is not as developed in most countries in Africa is also a big challenge that needs to be tackled mainly through regional co-operation among African countries.
What should Africans do to at-tract more visitors and business to its travel industry?
I think Africans first and foremost need to appreciate each other the most and also get to visit each other. This will create a catalytic effect that will not only help transform the lives of Africans through increased trade, but will also make us understand each other better. Through my travels, I have been amazed at how little Africans know about each other, yet some understand the histories of mainly western countries better than their own history. We now have one of the fastest developing middleclass in Africa and this means that many Africans are now able to afford travel, and if we encourage crossborder travel without erecting walls through trade and travel barriers, then we will surely transform Africa. A case in point is the unnecessary air service barriers and huge airport fees and taxes that African airlines have to pay in some countries. These make air travel within Africa very expensive and therefore discourage travel. Sometimes it costs more to travel within Africa than say travel from Africa to Europe and Asia.
Which are some of the Africa countries you have visited over the years?
I have had the pleasure of visiting almost half of the 54 African countries. Excluding my home country Kenya, I have travelled to Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, South Africa, Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan, Egypt, Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Senegal, Lesotho, Botswana, Swaziland and Ghana. And soon, I will be visiting Cameroun, Gabon, Republic of Congo, Djibouti and maybe Eritrea.
As a Kenyan, how well has your travel industry progressed over the years and what are some of the key or trending issues with the destinations?
Kenya offers a diversity of travel products. It also boasts a wealth of experience, especially in training and service standards that have been developed over so many years. The country remains quite strong in its travel and tourism offering, especially the beach and safari experience, but has gradually placed a greater emphasis on other tourism products over the last few years. These include the spa and wellness experience, adventure safari, ecotourism safari and the like. But what is also most impressive about Kenya’s travel and tourism industry is the added interest it gets from Kenyans themselves. Kenyans love to travel with friends, family and colleagues, and some travel alone to be with themselves only.
You have been travelling to Nigerian for a while now tell us about your experience of Nigeria travel industry and suggestions for developing the destination and attracting visitors/investors?
Nigeria is one very interesting country. The country has remained sort of largely misunderstood by the outside world, especially by most Africans. But to me, Nigeria holds a sort of mystical charm that can only be experienced by visiting this country. Like most African countries, Nigeria boasts wonderful natural landscapes dotted with rolling hills and valleys, but for me what really stands out about Nigeria is the food and culture of its people. Nigeria has some of the most dynamic traditional food varieties on the continent and this culinary safari need to be harnessed and developed further. The cultural aspects of the people of Nigeria also need to be celebrated. With more than 300 tribal communities speaking more than 300 different dialects, it makes Nigeria a cultural melting pot of some sorts.