African countries need more liberal policies that encourage innovation and private sector investment to tap into the continent’s immense potential in tourism, according to stakeholders who took part in the first Pan-African Conference on Sustainable Tourism Management in African National Parks in Arusha, northern Tanzania.
Tourism ministers at the meeting, which started Monday, issued a declaration calling on African governments to consider the role and potential of sustainable tourism in game parks and protected areas as a priority in national policies.
But in the view of players in the industry, the ministers’ declaration missed out on many things because governments don’t seem to have a grasp of the industry.
“Governments always want to see tourism running on the wheels of regulations but this tendency has failed tourism in Africa,” Leopold Kabendera, chairman of Tanzania Association of Tour Operators (TATO), told PANA.
Policies that guide the industry, according to Kabendera, should be determined by people in the business and not governments whose principal goal is revenue collection.
Expressing the same opinion, a nature conservator from Burundi, Leonidas Nzigiyimpa, said tourism cannot lead African populations out of poverty and create more jobs if governments do not make some concessions such as reduction of taxes on hotels, transport and visa fees for holidaymakers.
In addition, Nzigiyimpa told PANA that governments should realise the importance of putting public funds into conservation projects that will sustain eco-tourism.
Game viewing and bird watching have been the leading activities that keep tourists from industrial countries trekking African parks and beaches annually.
But experts believe this can done in a different way to attract hordes of tourists to Africa, as long imagination and innovation hold sway.
“We can do it by transforming game viewing into other products such as filming and by introduction of pastimes including scenic parachuting from summits like Mount Kilimanjaro, boating on rivers, lake cruises and diving in lakes,” Kabendera suggested.
As a veteran in the hospitality industry and a former manager of leading hotels in Tanzania, Kebendera believes strongly that liberal policies should steer tourism development and promotion in Africa.
“Strict regulation of tourism by governments strangulates innovativeness. For the benefit of the industry, let’s look at ourselves from the outside and not just from within. Then we’ll discover what every country can offer to promote both domestic and international tourism,” he said.
Kabendera describes tourism as adventure and with that view he said: “Africa can be the most adventurous continent in the world.”
“We have to be liberal in highlighting our attractions and making Africa accessible. One does not need to own an airline to bring in tourists or to tap into conference tourism,” he said, suggesting that removal of border-crossing restrictions could encourage package-tour wholesalers in Europe, North America or Asia to advertise African destinations.
Kabendera is opposed to consumer advertising in tourism and stressed that it should be avoided. Instead, he said educational trips for journalists and organised expeditions for those who can relate information to the public should be stepped up.
“It’s the total experience that the travel agent wants. Don’t spend money on something whose results you cannot measure such as adverts on Premier League stadiums or global TV channels,” he said.
Tour operators dealing with big groups of travellers around the world determine the movements of those groups and such agents and travel writers should be the focus of African tourism promotion, Kabendera said.
On the Tanzanian scene, Kabendera said the problem is that government officials charged with managing the industry look at it in a simplistic way. “We lack articulation of what we have on the ground,” he said.
“At the end of the day, money accrued from tourism goes to everybody. We need a vibrant and informed private sector to boost tourism instead of concentrating on government control over natural resources for tourism,” he said.
Noting that Tanzania is second only to Brazil in possession of a variety of natural attractions, Kabendera called on potential investors in Tanzania to undertake serious product development initiatives and train tourism economists to take the industry forward.
“Every time there is a global economic crisis, we have seen that the resilience of tourism is very high,” Kabendera observed, stressing that efforts should be made to ease the movement of tourists because “the holiday time becomes small due to increasing pressure on every person’s life.”
Citing South Africa as a successful case of tourism management in Africa, Kabendera explained that international sanctions against the country’s former white-minority rule contributed to the development of its internal resources.
On that note, he said Gabon, which is just making its debut in the industry, only requires inviting experienced investors to team up with local counterparts to do the job.
Meanwhile, Nzigiyimpa has called on tourism stakeholders in member countries of the East African Community (EAC) to kick-start strategic partnership for promotion of eco-tourism.
“Since we have many common resources, we should plan our development together and use the private sector to push the governments to act according to the needs of the industry,” he said.
“We don’t have minerals in Burundi and our natural attractions are limited, but we have something to show to the world in eco-tourism,” said Nzigiyimpa,
Through an NGO he co-manages with a local partner, Moonlight Safari, Nzigiyimpa recently secured a World Bank pledge of US$750,000 support for the promotion of eco-tourism and protection of Bururi forest in southern Burundi.
The 3,300 hectare forest is home to chimpanzees and a rare species long-fingered frog, scientifically known as ‘cardioglossa cyaneospila’, that was regarded as extinct since 1949 but rediscovered in December 2011 by a team of scientists from the University of California and the University of Texas.