By Wale Olapade
Travelling freely within the Africa borders had never been an easy task due to different restrictions and unstable policies by governments and authorities at different ports of entry. with this scenario, the continent had also suffered different degrees of setback in terms of business development and economic integration.
Again, this clog had for decades made seamless travel difficult to achieve, which has continued to fuel Africa’s over dependence on the western world for what it s component states can jointly pull resources to develop and market Africa as a choice destination.
Even with the Africa Union and ECOWAS among others championing the unity of the continent, little or nothing significant have changed in terms of positioning one of the wealthiest continents, endowed with natural and human potentialities.
It was on this premise that the first Accra Weizo, organised by the organiser of Akwaaba African Travel Market (AfTM) was born, to break the jinx of free travel within the Africa borders.
The second edition which rallied stakeholders in the travel, tourism, aviation and allied sector at La Palms Royal Beach Hotel and Resort in Accra, Ghana featured a brain-storming session with focus on liberalised air connectivity, visa accessibility and free movement in Africa.
The stakeholders, mostly drawn from Nigeria, Ghana and other African countries observed the need to eradicate all entry barriers militating against free movement in the sub- region, to facilitate seamless travel in West Africa.
The event was set rolling with the organiser of the Accra Weizo, Mr Ikechi Uko, charging all and sundry to see attitudinal change about Africa as the first step in making Africa great again.
Uko who described Africa as a multifaceted entity said “Africa can rather grow collectively than individually because we need each other through uniform policies that permeate business development in Africa to grow, since we have the resource, manpower and ready market to promote domestic tourism.
“West Africa has a population of over 300 million from 15 countries and over 40 airports. Despite having the largest economy in Africa, West Africa is very poor in aviation matters compared to East, South and North Africa.
“Africa cannot boast of a major aviation hub, let alone of a super airline. Every airline comes to West Africa to fill up their balance sheet, yet the airlines in West Africa struggle to maintain profitability. Taxes and policy hurdles cripple profitable operations in West Africa.”
The 2016 edition borrowed a leaf from the success stories of the East African countries (EAC) made up of Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi and Tanzania, where their practical determination to step up their games in tourists’ arrivals within the block led to formulation of flexible travel policies and visa regime to facilitate seamless border access for member states.
Making the choice of speakers for the second edition was also paramount in doing justice to the theme of the event, ‘Seamless Travel in Africa’. There was no better model than East Africa Tourism Platform (EATP) which has tremendously scaled up the game by harmonising the region’s strengths and advantages to drive a common goal.
In her presentation, the guest speaker and Coordinator, East Africa Tourism Platform, Carmen Nibigira, spoke extensively on the East Africa Joint Tourism Visa which has improved seamless travel within the EAC.
She maintaind that tourism has to be translated into economic case or sense coupled with data and figures to make the desired impact.
“The vision of East Africa Tourism Platform (EATP) is to create a vibrant and diverse single tourist destination providing exceptional experiences, promoting intra and inter-regional tourism through advocacy, marketing, skills development, research and information sharing.
“The core objective of the platform is to provide positive and result-oriented policy lobbying and advocacy.
She outlined EATP advocacy agenda to include Single EAC Tourist Visa and other immigration reforms to ease movement, liberalisation/free movement of tourism services, open skies policy and improved air and road infrastructure, sector specific tax reforms and incentives like harmonised VAT and levies.
Others include harmonised standards and codes of conduct of tourism facilities and services, harmonised policy for the conservation and sustainable utilisation of wildlife and other tourism resources.
She also listed the obstacles to inter and intra- regional tourism in EAC to include, compliance with different standard policies costly, separate marketing of tourism products and destination.
She added, “lack of national and regional trademark tourism products, reluctance to fast track tourism integration, protectionism of national air spaces/ national carriers, lack of adequate road, air and ICT infrastructure, competitiveness (v alue for money and products), harmonisation of standards and slow process.
“A foreigner who wants to visit simultaneously the Republic of Kenya, Republic of Rwanda and Republic of Uganda for tourism, the visa will be issued at any of the diplomatic representations of Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, at the immigration offices of the respective countries or on-line where applicable. (Online application is available for Rwanda).
“The East Africa tourist visa is a multiple entry visa for foreigners visiting Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda simultaneously. This visa is a result of a joint initiative made by the heads of states of the respective partner countries to boost regional tourism and create opportunities for tourists to explore the diversity of East Africa.
We need W/Africa Tourism Board for regional advocacy-NANTA President
Appreciating the East African practical tourism model, the National President of the Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA), Mr Bankole Bernard stressed the need for West Africa to learn from EATOP experience.
Bernard however called for the setting up of a West African Tourism Board to propel regional advocacy to grow travel and tourism.
Bernard said the sub-region will be engaging themselves more by taken advantage of the sub-region’s potential and population.
We need intra-Africa collaboration-Eyison
The Chief Executive Officer, Pacific Tours, Kwesi Eyison who is also a member of the panel, in his remarks stressed the need for intra African collaboration in the area of travel and tourism to accelerate the pace of growth and development in the sub- region.
He also spoke on the need for West Africa to explore the packaging of hosted buyers to different destinations in the region.
West Africa is a vibrant market for South Africa- South Africa Tourism
The Trade Relations Manager West Africa of South African Tourism, Mohammed Tanko Kwajaffa, who represented the Regional Manager, East and West Africa for South African Tourism, Lehlohonolo Hloni Pitso, emphasised that West Africa is a vibrant market for South African Tourism.
On South African Tourism brand experience in West Africa,” Pitso stressed that the vibrancy of the sub-region’s market necessitated the opening of the West African office in Lagos, which was the first office outside South Africa to effectively cater for the needs of the market.
“The strategic importance the tourism body attached to the West African market is responsible for why it is always organising road shows, workshops to always update their trade partners on what is on offer in South Africa.
Communications help to network airport infrastructure- Vice Chairman, SAHCOL
Speaking on Integrating Airport Operations in West Africa, the Vice Chairman of Skyway Aviation Handling Company Ltd, Mr Chike Ogeah said that airport communication helps network airport infrastructure by ensuring a safe and secure space, while allowing passengers and operators to move freely around the airport.
He listed the major challenges faced by passengers at airports to include, Long queues during check in, baggage drop off and security screening, difficulty in finding the right flight, delayed delivery of checked in baggage, lost and mishandled baggage, among others not receiving relevant information in time.
Nigeria must strengthen its tourism policies to lead W/Africa-NATOP President
The Presi dent of Nigerian Tour Operators (NATOP) and Chairman of Remlord Tour and Car Hire Services, Nkereuwem Onung, called for the need to take tourism sector in Nigeria seriously by learning from South Africa with RETOSA and East Africa with EATP.
Nigeria must agree to relate with different tourism authorities, domestically and internationally to move tourism forward, adding that “this is an auspicious time for Africa to chart a new course for tourism.
“There is need for Nigeria’s tourism policies to be strengthened, he said that Nigeria needs to lead the way in making travel seamless in West Africa.