More good news, more communication with the media and more capacity building in Africa’s tourism sector are the key messages being pushed at the UN World Tourism Organization’s regional conference on tourism communication in Bamako, Mali. Lack of tourism knowledge in Africa and human capacity was focused upon, as well as the potential of the industry to alleviate poverty and boost ecotourism specifically.
“There should be a network of tourism communicators to tell the truth about Africa and to strengthen the image of the continent,” says Sylla Hadja Koumba Diakite, Minister of Tourism for Guinea.
Delegates highlighted the amount of bad news that comes out of the region—i.e problems in Darfur, AIDS, a controversial acquitted rape case in South Africa—and how this is sensationalized by the press and how this needs to be balanced by positive and accurate news, as well as more tourism focused information about a destination.
“Governments need to provide more information, access and coordination - the image of Africa needs to be managed better,” says Allen Kamau, director of Africapractice.
“It is seen as a big block, but it is many countries. We may have problems in Darfur but that is not the whole picture. A lot of images of Africa come from NGOs and they are dependent on providing an image of need for their funding.”
“Tourism is growing at 5.5 percent globally according to the WTO, yet in Africa it is growing at ten percent, so we have a competitive advantage. Remember Africa wants to trade its way out of poverty and tourism is a way of doing this.”
The importance of tourism was also highlighted by South Africa, where 80,000 jobs have been created in the sector in he last year.
Moderators at the sessions talked about the need to provide more tourism-focused content and that destinations have to think creatively about putting their image of Africa across to the traveler. “Tourism authorities need to be frank with journalists,” says Sibiki Konate, director general of TV Mali.
“You can never get enough information, it is difficult to find and gather this in Africa, also good information from tourism offices is rare,” says Ludovic Dunod, travel editor at Radio France International.
“Communication with journalists is not that costly. We did a survey and found that it is 20-times cheaper for a press trip than a publicity campaign,” explains Dunod.
He went on to emphasize the importance of press trips and the need for tourism boards to be proactive rather than reactive when working in this area. The delegates went on to emphasize the importance of Africa’s domestic tourism market. “It is essential for Africans to holiday in Africa, not France or the U.S. Why not make Africans explore Africa first,” says Diakite.