WTO: Africa lags behind in tourism

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia -- Africa is dramatically underrepresented in world tourism arrivals and earnings, according to Ousmane NDiaye, the World Tourism Organization's representative for Africa.

He told delegates at the annual Africa Travel Association congress here last week that press reports on famine and other tragedies are partly to blame, but he also blamed African governments for failing to put their natural attractions "on the map."

According to the statistics, NDiaye said, the 25 million international arrivals recorded on the African continent last year accounted for only 4% of the world's total arrivals, and its $10 billion in tourism receipts accounted for only 2% of the world's total spending.

The "encouraging" news, he said, is the potential for African tourism, including WTO's projections of 45.6 million arrivals in Africa by 2010 and 74.9 million by 2020.

In comments focused on Africa south of the Sahara, he called on governments to develop clear marketing strategies aimed at key markets and to do so in concert with their private sectors.

To date, he said, the private sectors generally have been weak and kept out of the loop when governments plan tourism strategies.

NDiaye also called on African countries to develop new products, "preferably with a marked ecological content" because Africa is "an ecotourism destination par excellence."

He urged nations to keep up-to-date information readily available, to harness new information technologies and to consider supporting regional information centers to be maintained in prime markets, such as the U.S.

He added that WTO believes governments, besides working with their private sectors, need to cooperate with one another to do joint promotions.

The themes of NDiaye's remarks -- that Africa has an image problem and that cooperation is the key to boosting tourism arrivals -- were echoed during a half day of panel and Q&A periods devoted to marketing the continent.

Jerry Bird, publisher of ATA's Africa Travel magazine and operator of the group's Web site, said he was "determined" to add a second ATA Web site, which he has dubbed RealAfrica.com.

Its purpose, he said, would be to highlight the positive sides of travel and life in Africa, as an antidote to news in the national media.

Speaker David Saunders, chief executive officer of Venue International Professionals in Washington, a tour operator and tourism consulting firm, laid out his list of recommended strategies, in this case for the ATA.

He said the group needs to enhance its use of public relations to get the kind of press the organization and continent need; he urged consistently promoting Africa as "the tourism destination of the 21st century."

As for cooperative efforts to promote Africa, Saunders looked at ways ATA members can help each other. He said one thing ATA members in the U.S. "can do best is to bring their expertise to their counterparts here [in Africa]."

He also called on fellow members to "facilitate relationships across the ocean through education" -- through education of agents and others on both sides of the Atlantic about the others' business environment.

Panelist Marlene Melton, operator of the New York-based African Ventures marketing company and an ad manager for the New York Times, outlined a model for regional cooperation at the government level.

Key elements in the model proposal included a joint advertising campaign, a regional travel mart, a tourism investment conference, use of the Internet to full advantage and an annual full-color sales brochure and video materials.

Meanwhile, she noted, regional cooperation already is taking shape in some areas, citing the Regional Tourism of Southern Africa group, which recently retained the services of a public relations firm in the U.S.

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