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As participating countries in the just concluded tourism and trade fair (FITUR) in Madrid, Spain continue to count their sealed tourism deals, air connectivity and product development in the continent dominated discussions during the fourth edition of the Investment and Tourism Business Forum (INVESTOUR).

INVESTOUR, which has become an integral part of the annual exhibition addresses cooperation and business opportunities between Spain and Africa.

INVESTOUR 2013 brought together representatives from 33 African countries and over 50 Spanish entrepreneurs.

An initiative of United Nations World Tourism Organisation, 'the Madrid Tourism Fair Institution (IFEMA) and Casa Africa, INVESTOUR 2013 held under the theme 'Tourism Development in Africa: Challenges and Opportunities' highlighted some of the key competitive areas for tourism in the region - air connectivity, investment, branding and product development,' the world tourism body said.

'The B-2-B session, which serves as a business platform for participants, attracted over 50 Spanish companies to explore opportunities around 200 African tourism projects in areas such as hospitality, transportation, education, know-how and infrastructure,' it added.

'Bringing together the public and private sectors with potential international partners, represents a unique opportunity to reinforce business relations between Spain and Africa and advance sustainable development in the continent', said UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai, while declaring  INVESTOUR open.

Against the backdrop of international tourist arrivals growing by 6 per cent in the region in 2012, the event took place 'in a moment in which Africa continues to strive in the tourism map', he added.

The importance of the correct strategic planning in tourism to promote Africa's development was highlighted by the Minister of Tourism of Benin, Jean Michel Abimbola. 'The diversification of the economy is the key to attract investment and preserve the millenarian's traditions through projects such as ecotourism and training', he said.

'Africa is a destination and Africa is a market' said the Minister of Tourism of South Africa, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, echoing debates which underscored that in the current economic circumstances, initiatives such as INVESTOUR can make a difference both in promoting tourism development as well as in bringing new opportunities to companies in Europe.

In closing the event, the Minister of Tourism of Senegal, Youssou N'Dour, underscored that INVESTOUR is 'a unique opportunity for African countries to showcase their tourism potential to Spanish investors and partners. Tourism is a sector that can make a difference in our region, and therefore we will continue supporting this important initiative in the future.'

Africa is one of the fastest growing tourism regions in the world. Between 2000 and 2012, international tourist arrivals more than doubled (from 26 million to 52 million). By 2030, UNWTO forecasts this figure to reach 134 million.