As travel has become the world’s leading activity, Africa should be prepared to receive an influx of 134 million travellers by 2030, UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) Secretary-General Taleb Rifai told the opening session of First Pan-African Conference on Sustainable Tourism Management in African National Parks and Protected Areas here Monday.
“The economic crisis is deepening but tourism is still growing,” said Rifai, noting that the world was about to witness one billion international tourists crossing borders this year.
As an outcome of tourism combined with developments in the information technology, he said the world was experiencing a revolution that is changing peoples’ lives in the way they communicate.
“Everybody is travelling. It has become a human right to move and travel across the world for business, education and leisure,” Rifai said.
Nature-based tourism or eco-tourism is a large and growing global industry, partially dependent upon the attributes of the natural environment and biodiversity wildlife and scenery which represent one of Africa’s strategic competitive advantages as a destination.
Though the world has entered an age of travel, Rifai pointed out that Africa still occupied less than 5 percent of world tourism.
UNWTO statistics show that in the first six months of this year, Africa’s tourism industry grew by 7 percent.
According to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), the global tourism industry presently accounts for 5 percent of the total economic activity, generating over US$1trillion per annum or about US$3 billion per day and employing about 7 percent of the total workforce.
“The majority of African countries, particularly those in sub-Sahara Africa, are embracing tourism as a potential tool for economic development and poverty alleviation,” said Geoffrey Manyara, senior regional tourism adviser with the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).
In Eastern African economies, Manyara told the meeting, the tourism industry contributes significantly to economic growth and development – over 7 percent to GDP in most countries in the region, with the exception of DR Congo.
“We need to put emphasis on sustainable tourism without compromising the prospects for our future generations to meet their own needs,” Tanzania’s Vice President Mohamed Gharib Bilal said.
“Tourism holds the promise of increased employment and many other economic opportunities. But our global heritage of living species is threatened than ever before due to the increase in the number of tourists in ecologically vulnerable areas,” he said.
Bilal called on African countries to protect the natural heritage they hold in trust for the development of the continent’s future generations.
The four-day conference is looking at the challenges and opportunities of tourism, and aims to encourage professional approach to better position ‘park tourism’ as one of the core components of overall national park management across Africa.
According to UNWTO, new partnerships between Africa and the rest of the world after this conference should impulse re-engineering of park management structures in order to maximise the economics and social benefits of tourism to local communities.
Besides tourism stakeholders from Europe, Asia and North America, the conference is also being attended by tourism ministers of Cameroon, Central African Republic, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Uganda, South Africa and Tanzania, among others.