Tourism: African Youths tackle issues affecting the industry and post-COVID-19 restoration on Akwaaba 2020 virtual conference

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The 2020 Akwaaba African Travel Market has come to an end after a successful hosting of the MICE Conference and the Youth in Tourism Conference as virtual events. Akwaaba African Travel Market, the leading Pan-African Tourism Expo became the first to successfully host its event without cancelling or postponing in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, although it was held online.

The African Youth in Tourism Conference kicked off with a brilliant presentation by lead speaker, Jamie-Lee Abtar, a UK-based African Diasporan from Barbados. Detailing how she got interested in travel and tourism from an early age, Miss Abtar recalled that she was born at a time Barbados was experiencing a tourism boom.

Proffering solutions to the theme of the conference: The Role of the Youth in Restoring Tourism Growth in Africa, Jamie-Lee believes that the rebuilding process of the industry from the effects of COVID-19, requires collaborative efforts. According to her, there is a need to effect change within the eco-system and she marshalled five key points.

First, youths need to be leaders.

Africa’s population is getting younger, according to her, so the youth need to be focussed and take up responsibilities.

Second, youths need to be innovators. They should come up with new ideas and perspectives.

Third, the youths need to be collaborators. They need to network and work together. Fourth, the youth should be digital disruptors – not in a negative sense, and finally, be distinctly different.

After the presentation by Miss Abtar, the host of the event, Dein Gbabo threw the floor open to the other panelists who highlighted various problems stifling the growth of the industry, using their respective countries as examples, especially with the coming of the Coronavirus.

For instance, Chiamaka Obuekwe popularly known as Social Prefect, one of the leading global tour operators in Nigeria under 35, highlighted poor infrastructure and road networks to tourists’ sites and attractions as a major problem. Citing the famous Obudu Mountain Resort in Cross River State, South-south Nigeria as an example; she stated that the site is phenomenal, but the road to the place from Calabar, the state capital is so poor, it takes about eight hours to make the trip – within the same state.

She also identified what she referred to as a “lack of branding and promotion” by the government to promote the country as a destination. She argued that every country has challenges of varying sort, whether it is security, etc. but they still spend money to promote their destinations. She cited the case of Kim Kardashian getting robbed in Paris, but it hasn’t affected France as a tourist destination, because they still market and promote the brand.

On her part, Ann Mwangi, a digital marketer from Kenya, asked if authentic information is being provided to create curiosity. She believes that not knowing your target audience is a problem, along with failure to fully explore digital marketing.

Also, she cited the inability to take advantage of user-friendly content from clients.

In addition, she challenged the youth on their readiness to be a part of the policy makers; a position toed by some other panelists like Sam Adeleke and Mel Tlhapi.

Apart from being ready to influence policies, Adeleke who is CEO of Lagos-based TravelWithSam, questioned the issue of collaboration.

For him, it was important to clearly identify the motives of most people who claim they want to collaborate with you, but in reality they just want to piggyback and leech on you instead.

Also, he advised that young people need to choose their struggles, stating that “You can’t grow your business out of bitterness and anger.”

Many young people come out as activists, attacking and complaining about everyone. In addition, he mentioned media and personal branding, and the need to be attractive. “Tourism is show business,” he opined and the one in business needs to look smart and be a magnet to attract business.

Meanwhile, Mel the South African posited that the challenges facing the industry did not begin with COVID-19. According to her, they have been there long ago, but were being swept under the carpet, and the pandemic has brought them to the fore.

While highlighting the energy and excitement of the youth, Mel who is the CEO of Mel Prods SA asked how many youths have ownership of tangible products in the industry.

According to her, the issue of pricing for greed has to be looked at in comparison to offering quality services.

Also contributing, Carmen Imbili of Xceptional Tourism Services, Namibia pointed out that the tourism industry, along with mining and fishing plays a huge role in Namibia’s economy, and the pandemic really hit hard, especially at SMEs like the one she runs with her mother.

On her part, Miss Tourism Ghana, Abigail Nayram Tay identified four points, namely: awareness and branding, sustainability, investment, and skilled human resources as the challenges in Ghana.

Speaking about challenges, Paul Ukachukwu of Akwaaba African Travel Market, pointed out that the Nigerian mentality towards tourism education has to change.

According to him, a lot of people look down on you if you mention you are studying tourism in school.

He also questioned the problem arising from the COVID-19 tests at the moment.

Giving an example of the situation, he pointed out that to travel, you will do a test from your country. You will do another test on arrival at your destination. Do another test when you’re departing, and another test on arrival back in your country.

So, a total of four tests at your own costs, added to your travel budget.

However, the conference was not all about highlighting problems and challenges, as the panelists proffered various solutions. For instance, Sam Adeleke came up with F.E.E.T, which he explained as Financial intelligence, Education, Exposure, and Trust.

A grasp of these, he believes will help alleviate problems encountered by youths in the industry.

Meanwhile, Carmen Imbili emphasized that “Recoveries must be done with confidence.”

She opined that there is a need to harness the power of technology, and also called for the development of new and innovative marketing strategies, and unique ideas.

According to her, a destination like Lake Kariba, Zimbabwe, can create a movie-watching experience while cruising on a houseboat. Also, Imbili pointed out that Nigeria has the largest diversity of butterflies in the world, and a unique tourism services can be created around that.

For Ann Mwangi, she cited the virtual tourism concept initiated by Magical Kenya which featured digital content creation.

Also, she talked about the development of a vibrant domestic tourism market, and called for collaboration among Africans, and the need to have better policies in place to facilitate easy access.

Meanwhile, Nayram Tay believes there is a need to create more awareness and branding.

She cited the successful Year of Return campaign by Ghana in 2019, and the fact that another campaign Beyond the Return has kicked off to consolidate on the success.

She also clamour for having policies in place to guarantee the safety of investments, the need for skill acquisition, and the maintenance and sustaining of the numerous sites and attractions; as well promoting the unique selling points of each destination.

Skill acquisition and good education was echoed by Paul Ukachukwu, while he also called for collaboration with each other in creating unique packages.

For Social Prefect, Chiamaka, there is a need to become better storytellers. She also agreed to collaboration, the need for personal branding, building trust, creating good customer service, and need for mentorship.

In addition, she wants better infrastructure and the creation of enabling policies.

Mel, on her part stated that “True success is the number of tangible jobs one can create.”

She asked, “Why are we remaining in small business?” Challenging the youths to be fearless, and be different. She emphasized the need to know the market and put the traveller first.

She stated the need for specialization and a separation of roles, as opposed to people wearing multiple hats, where they become Jack-of-all-trades and master of none.

Before the host, Dein Gbabo brought the event to a close, she invited the initiator of Akwaaba African Travel Market, Ambassador Ikechi Uko to share a few words.

Briefly, he agreed to collaboration, but said a big no to piggy-backing.

Uko also had advice for the youths, asking them to rid themselves of infantile grandiosity, narcissism and sense of entitlement. He enjoined them to be humble and have a right attitude. In closing, Madam Shalom Asuquo expressed her delight at the rich and meaningful discussion of the youth conference.

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