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Tourism Development in Africa: A Review

By Wale Odunsi
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Tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors of the global economy and many developing countries are attempting to cash in on this expanding industry, in an attempt to boost foreign investment and financial reserves.

Although the value of tourism has long been recognized, international attention to the role of tourism development especially in Africa is still lacking.

That Africa is blessed with enormous tourism sites is only stating the obvious. In every sub-region, captivating spots exist in abundance; little wonders why the continent remains tourists' delight. The development of tourism in the “black-people's continent” is an issue that has over the years raised several opinions. While some believe the potentials of the industry are yet fully utilized, others think opposite. I go with the view of the former.

The argument for tourism as a development strategy is primarily economic although ideals such as bringing increased understanding among peoples and cultures are also cited.

Faced with wasteful years of civil wars, poverty, inconstant economy and other myriad of problems, Africa continuously deal with the challenge of tourism marketing for various destinations against other competing regions such as Europe.

The continental body, African Union (AU) is aware of the fact that its natural endowments are far from full exploitation and openly declared that there's need for a more purposeful execution of its tourism policy. Its laudable signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) during the 35th Africa Travel Association (ATA) World Congress (May 17-20, 2010) in Banjul, Gambia, confirms its sincerity and readiness to improve the industry.

The MoU seeks the establishment of a cohesive Africa tourism direction within the fifty-three AU States for African Union Commission (AUC) while calling ATA to work together to advance Africa's agenda within the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) context of the AUC.

The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) was present and also contributed during deliberations at the congress.

The Tourism Action Plan addresses the following areas; Creation of an enabling policy and regulatory environment; Institutional capacity building; Promotion of tourism marketing; Promotion of research and development; Promotion of investments in tourism infrastructure and products; Mobilization of financial resources; Establishment of code of conduct and ethics for tourism; and Strengthening of human resources and quality assurance.

These developments are designed to crystallize and mainstream tourism into the individual AU States' economies and encourage greater collaboration between government and industry on marketing, planning and execution of the AUC Tourism Action Plan.

However, many of the African people are yet to feel the impact of what they consider bogus conferences that hardly produce results. A peasant farmer I met once called it “English-grammar meetings”. One cannot blame people with such view; it is not enough to invite international bodies and experts to speak at much-publicized events; what the common man on the street wants is making money from his craft so as to enable him take care of dependants.

Although African leaders seem to be paying more attention to the sector, they must do more than the usual lip-service. Indeed, there is a huge possibility of turning their countries into investors' haven. The conscious step they collectively took should be followed with genuine approach and vigor that will ensure the success of the policy.

The leaders should know that the tremendous opportunities in the tourism industry (which has become the world's single largest industry, exceeded an amazing $700 billion) can generate huge revenue suffice to fund projects they usually take loans from Bretton Woods institutions to finance.

The AU should member states should be reminded to put in place the necessary infrastructures that will encourage investors while ensuring peace and stability of their respective countries. All hands must be on deck to ensure that this renewed effort towards developing tourism come into fruition.

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