Posted to PR Nigeria: June 11, 2008

AFRICA tourism industry was on the front burner last month as Nigeria played host to the 47th session of the Commission for Africa (CAF) in Abuja. The gathering attracted many delegates from the various countries of the region with about 15 ministers of tourism in attendance, key players and organisations in the sector.

The Deputy Secretary General of the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), Taleb Rifai and the Assistant Secretary General, Geoffrey Lipman as well as the Regional Representative (Africa), Ousmane Ndiaye and the Programme Officer for CAF, Helder Tomas made up the list of officials from the office of UNWTO present at the session. Nigeria’s delegation was led by the Minister of Culture, Tourism and National Orientation, Adetokunbo Kayode. Also in the team were the Minister of State, Dr. Aliyu Idi Hong and the Director of Tourism, Mrs. Esther Adeyemi.

CAF was set up some 10 years ago by the UNWTO as part of its commitment to fast track the development of African tourism. Headed by a chairman on rotational basis the commission meets annually to consider matters affecting the sector and proffer solutions.

The just concluded regional session, which held at the Congress Hall of the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja was part of the ongoing moves by the commission to review the progress of its work, deliberate on the state of the region’s tourism and seek solutions to its attendant problems.

Of the many issues presented, the most critical of all in the estimation of the delegates and observers of the proceedings was the one-day seminar on ‘how can marketing techniques contribute to enhance Africa destinations.’ From the interest it generated, it was clear that the seminar topic was apt.

And central to the discussion was the issue of ‘the image of Africa and its importance for tourism development.’ Besides addressing the other perennial issues that have constituted hurdles, key to developing and growing the region’s tourism, as agreed by all the participants, was that of the image of the continent.

Taleb Rifai, in his opening remark declared that the image of Africa on the global level is bastardized. He therefore urged the region to take a look at the question of image and perception.

To win the expected tourists, he contended that the region must look into burnishing its image itself and not look to any external body for help. He also enjoined the region to work as one single destination because of the unique qualities and commonalities among the various countries. He also called for a united Africa, an Africa that is a collective, solidify and united by one message and one cause. In this wise, he draws attention to using one single event to promote traffic to the region urging that more attention should be paid to the 2010 FIFA World Cup scheduled to hold in South Africa.

Geoffrey Lipman in his presentation called for a new strategic approach, urging the region to be constructive in its engagement with tourism and to do something which is very simple and clear. Lipman also insisted that Africa has good story to tell and must begin to tell it in an elucidating manner.

Africa image, he said, is what Africa wants it to be and not what the world says it is. Lipman assured the region of the support of the world body in whatever area that the body is required to aid the growth of the region.

Meanwhile, the Regional Representative, Ousmane Ndiaye sounded upbeat about the prospect of Africa in his periscope of the tourism market trend in the world and Africa. He reeled out statistics of performance posted by the various continental markets including Africa. Even though the region has not fared well, Ndiaye said the future is bright urging the various countries to march into the future with hope and confident that the industry would work in their farvour.

What also appeared to be a case study of performance of selected countries within the region was provided with Nambia, Ghana, Zimbabwe and South Africa, in very clear and definitive terms gave a picture of development and growth of the industry in their respective countries. Vision and strategies adopted by them as well as the challenges, threats and opportunities available to them were some of the things shared with the audience.

The roll of trade fairs in marketing destination using FITUR as a case study was also looked at while the issue of e-marketing, e-tourism and applications of modern technologies, especially in the areas of travel facilitation with product on offer by Microsoft and SITA exposed to the audience.

The ‘role of the media,’ was handled by the Managing Director of Cachet Consulting, Anita Mendiratta who is also an independent consultant to the Cable News Network (CNN) based in America.

Her delivery was punching, fascinating and critical to the entire marketing mix as she took the audience through the important role that the media plays in the development and marketing of a destination.

Going through the whole gamut of the media elements ranging from its message, competitiveness, branding, and advertising to differentiation and building trust on the media, Mendiatta’s admonition is for stakeholders to take a second look at the media as a key tool for developing and marketing its destination. She expressed hope that the region would do well if it learns the best use of media and how to communicate its message through it.

Appraising the CAF forum, Mendiatta commended UNWTO and CAF for taking the initiative to put together the session, which she said is very critical as people need to share information on best practice.

For the likes of Humphrey Kuma who is an Acting Director in the Ministry of Tourism and Diasporan Relations, Ghana and Karikoga Kaseke, the Chief Executive Officer of Zimbabwe Tourism Authority, the CAF session was a great experience. One key lesson, according to the duo, is the need for Africa to work as a unit.

Helder Tomas who is the Programme Officer of CAF was optimistic about the achievement of the conference. He described it as ” one of the best CAF meetings that we have had. First of all, in terms of attendance, we had almost 300 delegates. We had about 15 tourism ministers from different Africa countries. It went beyond our expectations.”

Tomas is confident that sooner than expected that Africa would hit the Bull’s eye.

On how far they have come in pushing the agenda of CAF, the programme officer disclosed thus: “We have done well in pushing the agenda of CAF but we have to recognise that the UNWTO is the smallest organisation within the UN system and our resources are limited and our human capacity is limited but despite all of these, we have done our utmost to assist our Africa member states. We have been helping different Africa countries in designing tourism development plan in terms of capacity building and in terms of positive mechanism that would enhance Africa destination.”

Good talk though but if the region really hopes to get to the top then its leaders and tourism managers must now begin to speak the language of tourism.

Observers say the various governments must begin to clean up it political act and look to growing their respective countries economically, socially, environmentally, spiritually and infrastructure wise as these elements play important roles in building a viable tourism industry.

In achieving this, some of the key points highlighted by Lipman at the concluding part of the session are relevant.

As for the world tourism body, Lipman said UNWTO is ready to increase support and assistance to the region provided the region marshal an action plan that the tourism body can support.

* Source: The Guardian Newspapers

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