“If you don’t beat your drums, nobody notices you.” This proverbial expression underscores the importance for an uncommon bond of unity among African states. The kind of unity that will reawaken their consciousness to the unfolding fact that, as blacks, no one can tell their story better than themselves. The kind of unity that will act as a catalyst for groundbreaking success in African tourism.
No doubt, tourism has become a money spinner for many economies today, both in Africa and other parts of the world. The industry has become a goldmine, attracting investors, creating employment, driving infrastructure and being a steady contributor to GDP of many countries.
According to world tourism rankings compiled by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), European countries – France, Spain, Turkey, Germany and Italy — dominated the top 10 table of tourist destinations that attracted more visitors in 2015. On a global scaling of individual countries, France still topped the list with 83.7 million visitors, followed by United States of America with 74.8 million visitors.
On that same ranking, Africa is last on the table with only 53 million inbound visitors. And in the top 10 category, Morocco topped the list with 10.2 visitors, South Africa followed with 9.2, while Tunisia came 3rd with 6.0 visitors in the year 2015.
It is discernable from this ranking that Africa, dubbed as the Mother Continent due to her history rooted in antiquity as the oldest inhabited continent on earth, still remains the most hidden tourist gem with great lakes, crystal blue beaches with pearly white sands, jaw-dropping flora, majestic wildlife and alluring mountains within its borders.
Europe and America are advancing in tourism because they are taking advantage of UNWTO, as the headquarters is domiciled in Spain. Europe also promotes her tourism through the European Travel Commission (ETC), an international organisation responsible for the promotion of Europe as a tourist destination. Its members are the national tourism organisations (NTOs) of 33 states. Since its creation, ETC has been a result-oriented organization, working closely with government agencies to promote tourism in the continent.
The USA owns BRAND, a resource organization that promotes tourist destinations in the U.S. utilizing internet search engines like Google, Opera Mini, Explorer and the social media to better promote tourist destinations in the USA.
Other destinations in the Southern America, Asia and the Middle East all have good platforms that promote their tourism, and they are always on the lookout for more opportunities to showcase their brands.
In Africa, however, there appears to be a lack of interest toward tourism. Some states are neglecting the sector, failing to maximize the economic potential in them to develop other sectors.
The Akwaaba Africa Travel Market offers a platform annually for African states to exhibit their tourism to the world. The market complements the efforts of the UNWTO and other regional tourism organisations in Africa. It creates a real interpersonal avenue for interaction between travel agents, hoteliers, state tourism boards and tourism seekers.
Akwaaba has been thriving for over 12 years with huge success to the participants. Surprisingly, however, only few African states are taking advantage of this platform. In the last 12 events, South Africa, Ghana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Togo, Benin and the host country, Nigeria, have been regular participants.
At the 12th edition of Akwaaba 2016, which took place from 30th October to 1st of November at Eko Hotel and Suites, the South African Tourism made a giant step forward by signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the Nigerian and Ghanaian travel agencies under the umbrella of Nigeria Association of Tour Operators (NATOP), National Association of Nigerian Travel Agencies (NANTA) and the Tour Operators Association of Ghana.
The MoU initiated a strong multilateral marketing relationship between the three, which will be sponsored by the South African government to boost the nation’s tourism brand.
Reacting to the initiative, Ikechi Uko, the Chief organizer of Akwaaba said: “Instead of Nigerians going to UK or USA for holiday, if they go to South Africa, we will benefit. The biggest investors we have in Nigeria today includes South Africa. There are more than 134 South African countries in Nigeria. So, if South Africa decides to get Nigerians to go to South Africa, it is good for our economy.
“For me, we are not doing it. Everybody is ripping off the system. So, I will prefer an African to take advantage of our population than a non-African, and I will tell you why. No matter what South Africa does to prevent Nigerians from traveling to the country, Nigerians must find a way to go there. They don’t have the power to stop us.
But if the UK decides to stop every African from traveling into their territory, they will succeed. That’s why people are dying on the Mediterranean Sea every day. Have you heard of anybody dying going to South Africa? No, he said.
He added that Africans need to grow Africa by themselves so as to allow for free movement within Africa for tourism to flourish.
Although the market is usually hosted in Nigeria, the nation’s tourism hasn’t been well represented at the market. Uko lamented that the Nigerian government does not recognize tour operators in Nigeria.
He said: “The South African government has come here to sign a joint marketing agreement with tour operators. What that means is that the South African Tourism will give them money to organize events and grow their associations. Instead of the South African Government giving NATOP money, shouldn’t the Federal Government of Nigeria be giving NATOP money?
“Meanwhile, NATOP is not recognized by Nigerian Government. So, if South Africans have decided to recognize your own people, it’s a shame to you. I thank the South Africans because they are change agents in this country,” Uko said.
This year’s Akwaaba had 15 countries and 35 tourism experts in attendance. Apart from the regular participants, other debutants were Uganda, Liberia, Tanzania and Namibia. There was one participant from the Middle East – United Arab Emirates (UAE), which imposed an intimidating presence that won the best stand at the event. South African stand took second while Kenya came third.
Akwaaba has been consolidating on its achievements in promoting African tourism, aviation and hospitality. This year, there were educative sessions bordering on Africa’s aviation, hotel management, hotel rating and marketing.
Damian Cook of E-tourism Frontiers was among the crop of experts from hospitality, travel agencies and tour operators who dazzled the audience on best management methods that will promote hotels and tourism with the aide of ICT.
The aviation team harped on the urgency to incorporate business models that will salvage the ailing African airlines, particularly Nigeria’s indigenous airlines.
Organisers of Akwaaba also use the platform to reward travel experts, airlines, hoteliers and tour operators who distinguish themselves in rendering services to clients, customers, passengers and the general public. This year, the African Travel Awards drew distinguished personalities from all over Africa. Winners were first screened by a panel of experts from across Africa and voting was done by the general public.
Another traditional feature of Akwaaba is the Raffle Draw which avails participants the opportunity to win various prizes. This year, the British Airways gave out a free Business Class (Club World Class) to and from London to the winner, Favor Fadahunsi, of Tri-Global travels.
Kenya Tourism Board also maximized the opportunity of participating at this year’s Akwaaba to promote its tourism brand by giving out three holiday prizes to three lucky winners.
Tour Brokers International also took advantage of the platform to reward three winners with holiday tickets to visit one of the new Dubai parks and resort on a Royal Caribbean Cruise.
What else can be better than a platform like Akwaaba, which is driven with the passion to attract tourists all over the world to Africa?
Africa is the only continent that was battered by slavery, apartheid, genocide and other inhuman activities of imperial jackboots. Although this history has been captured in literary works, the very sites and locations are still standing and can be transformed into tourist attractions.
Taking from the words of Ikechi Uko to one of the debutants, Uganda, there is no tourism brand that can be better than the brand of “Idi Amin,” a former Ugandan despot and draconian who ruled the country with iron fists between 1971 and 1979.
According to Uko, “the story elicits sadness and fury to the citizens, yet it can be used as a tourism brand to attract people who would want to see the sites, scenes and pictures that are preserved of Amin’s tyranny.”
That is how Akwaaba has been playing a key role in up-building, educating, transforming, entertaining and rewarding Africans who have passion for tourism and the travel industry. And, as aptly captured in David Diop’s poem titled “Africa,” the continent, though standing alone, can revive her rich cultural heritage and transform her sad history into viable economic ventures through tourism.
“…That tree over there; splendidly alone amidst white and faded flowers. That is your Africa springing up anew; springing up patiently, obstinately, whose fruit, bit by bit, acquires the bitter taste of liberty,” taken from David Diop’s Poem “Africa.”