Open skies and open visas are the best ways to boost visitor numbers and make tourism an effective tool for economic development in Africa, according to tourism ministers participating in the 44th Africa Regional Commission (CAF) meeting of the World Tourism Organization.International tourist arrivals to Africa grew by 10% last year, nearly twice as fast as the world average.
But the region still represents only a 4% share of international tourism, a share that must increase if tourism is to realize its full potential for alleviating poverty in some of the world’s most disadvantaged nations.
“Tourism development is the quickest and simplest way to increase GDP and employment in Africa and it’s an economic activity where Africa has a unique advantage, with its natural beauty, its wildlife and its warm, friendly people,” said Nigerian Tourism Minister Franklin Nchita Ogbuewu, chairman of CAF.
The UNWTO meeting of African Tourism Ministers called for three critical changes to stimulate tourism growth in the region:
1. A significant increase in the number of new flights - both within the region and with other continents - through opening up air transport services.
2. Easing visa requirements, especially on a regional basis and using new information communication technology to provide visas on arrival with even better border security.
3. Improvement in the human and financing capacities needed to provide high quality tourism services.
“UNWTO is committed to helping Africa achieve its tourism goals through our special regional activities and assistance programs, such as our STEP Foundation,” said UNWTO Secretary-General Francesco Frangialli.
The Organization is working closely with the International Civil Aviation Organization on two projects to improve air service and speed up entry.
The first called “Essential Tourism Development Routes” (ETDR) aims to provide air services to destinations that may not be commercially viable themselves, at least in the initial phase but where the tourism export income they bring would make a significant difference to the local communities fight against poverty.
The second called Security and Facilitation Enhancement (SAFE) aims at using technology to simplify entry while tightening border controls. High-tech solutions that will streamline visa facilitation are also being explored by UNWTO in cooperation with the private sector.
Both will require development financing support, but both would make a material difference to Africa’s future.