Leading tourism industry experts from more than 20 African countries, North America, Europe, and Asia came together in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from May 6-11 to participate in the Africa Travel Association’s (ATA) 32nd Annual Congress. Ethiopia’s Culture and Tourism Ministry hosted the event in time for the country’s millennium celebrations. Ethiopian Airlines served as the congress’ official carrier.
Ethiopian President Girma Wolde-Giorgis welcomed delegates to Ethiopia at the opening ceremony held at United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) headquarters in Addis Ababa. The President called for more efforts to advance Africa’s tourism development. “The tourism industry involves the participation of billions of people of all walks of life,” he said. “Yet irrespective of Africa’s diversified wealth, the continent’s world share of receipts from international tourism is below four percent. This requires governments and leaders in the industry to concertedly mobilize their efforts towards sustainable tourism development and poverty eradication.”
The prevailing message ATA shared with the delegates was that Africa needs to be marketed as a tourist destination. ATA Executive Director Eddie Bergman said that Africa’s 53 nations need to “brand destination Africa in a way that benefits the continent as a whole and each individual country.” He continued: “this will enable the diverse community of African nations to present its tourism product with a stronger voice, and to put its collective weight behind continental and national priorities.”
Delegates gave ATA the mandate to lead a global campaign based on ATA’s Addis Declaration. This outcome document reflects members’ commitments to launch “an initiative devoted to raising global awareness and visibility of Africa as a travel destination” and to “expand their actions and projects and mobilize resources and partnerships” for the initiative. It also called on ATA to bring its 32 years of experience to “actively pursue a campaign to bring the world to Africa and Africa to the world.”
Participating ministers expressed support for ATA’s leadership with the campaign. As ATA President and Ghana’s Tourism Minister Jake Otanka Obetsebi-Lamptey noted, “ATA is a great vehicle to market and brand destination Africa; however, for ATA to work, it needs the full cooperation and support of all Africa countries, as well as the African Union.”
Ethiopian Culture and Tourism Minister Ambassador Mohamoud Dirir Gheddi said “ATA is playing the leading role in bringing the world to Africa, but it has to be careful while promoting Africa as one unified destination because we need to avoid falling into the trap of old stereotypes of Africa as the ‘dark continent.’”
“ATA is embarking on a new era with new challenges and prospects,” said Cameroon Tourism Minister El Hadj Baba Hamadou. “Long live ATA. Long live the cooperation between Cameroon and ATA.”
The congress highlighted the need to reach out to Asia’s emerging travel market. Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) senior board member Alwin Zecha reaffirmed PATA’s commitment to work with ATA. ATA also announced plans to reach out to the biggest Asian source market: China. ATA plans to recruit members from China to participate in ATA events and to present Africa’s travel products at travel and marketing expos throughout Asia.
The five-day program included topics such as “Branding Africa as a Tourism Destination.” The premier panel featured UNECA Executive Secretary Abdoulie Janneh, Ethiopian Airlines CEO Girma Wake and World Bank tourism development specialist Shaun Mann, as well as other private sector panelists. Tanzanian Ambassador Daudi Mwakawago, a Strategic Advisor to ATA’s Executive Director and former UN Special Representative of the Secretary General to Sierra Leone, skillfully facilitated the discussion.
Building on ATA’s partnership agreement with the African Airlines Association (AFRAA), a senior AFRAA representative facilitated a panel among airline representatives on the role of airlines in promoting tourism. Discussion focused on challenges airlines face that affect tourism growth, such as profitability. Delegates also participated in roundtable discussions, an arts and crafts fair, and a marketplace expo. Ethiopia’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism organized a day-long tour of Addis Ababa’s national museum and historical sites, as well as a trip 50 kilometers outside the capital to Bisihoftu and the Kuriftu Resort.
Member countries such as Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Zambia showcased their countries at sponsored lunches and dinners at the congress hotels: Hilton-Addis and the Ghion. Ethiopian Airlines and Sheraton Addis also sponsored special events.
At Tanzania’s seventh annual gala celebration, Tanzanian Minister Jumanne Maghembe called on member countries to increase their financial contributions to ATA. Tanzania’s call to action was endorsed by other member countries.
Speaking to delegates at Zambia’s sponsored dinner, Zambia’s Tourism, Environment and Natural Resources Minister and past ATA President Kabinga Pande said members need to support ATA in order to “move the association to another level.” He also highlighted the need to “build a concrete base for ATA as the flagship and premier organization for the promotion and marketing of Africa’s tourism to the rest of the world in a more practical way.”
Ethiopia’s Culture and Tourism Ministry and Ethiopian Airlines organized press/FAM tours in Addis Ababa, Lalibela, and Southern Ethiopia for delegates and travel trade journalists.
Working in partnership with MedShare International (a humanitarian organization) and with support from Miracle Corners of the World (a non-profit organization) and private sector companies, ATA contributed a container of medical supplies valued at $350,000 to a hospital in the Lalibela region of Ethiopia. “This contribution provides a tangible and immediate benefit to the local community from the tourism industry,” said Bergman.
Delegates included more than a dozen tourism ministers, senior intergovernmental organization representatives, hotel and airline executives, travel industry experts, tourism board heads, private sector entrepreneurs, Cameroon, Canada, Chad, China, Congo, Djbouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Republic of Congo, Senegal, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Thailand, Togo, Uganda, the USA, and Zambia.
The Congress also attracted media partners, including Amsterdam News, Africa Channel, African Times, Africa Travel Magazine, Afropop, BBC World, E-turbo News, Radio France International, Travel World News, and OgoSow.com.
“By the end, each and every one of us was ready to serve as an ambassador to Ethiopia,” said Bergman. “In fact, by promoting travel to Ethiopia, we hope to share this hidden beacon of light with the rest of the world.”