Africa’s leading tourism operators are meeting in Botswana for talks on reviving the industry after the damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Intra-African travel is at the top of the agenda at the three-day meeting, which has attracted more than 450 delegates from 43 countries.

Botswana’s President Mokgweetsi Masisi, who gave the keynote speech Tuesday at the Africa Tourism Leadership Forum in Gaborone, told attendees they need to focus on ways to encourage travel to and within the continent.

“This vital forum will undoubtedly provide the travel and tourism industry in Africa — and indeed the rest of the world — with a platform for exchanging ideas aimed at promoting travel to and around Africa,” Masisi said. “Tourism is a dynamic and competitive industry that requires the ability to constantly adapt to customers’ changing needs and desires as customer satisfaction, safety and enjoyment are the focus of the tourism business.”

Masisi said tourism was showing signs of recovery after the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, which brought most vacation travel to a halt for about two years.

The president noted most African countries have eased pandemic restrictions, making it easier and more comfortable for travelers to visit.

“The sector is beginning to rebound in 2022 due to more relaxed travel restrictions and a well thought-out strategy, which saw growth of the domestic market and recovery of regional and international markets,” Masisi said.

While much of Africa looks to foreign tourism dollars, Botswana’s Tourism Minister Philda Kereng said intra-African travel was a top focus of the forum to help rebuild the industry.

“They are coming out of COVID-19 with enthusiasm, wanting to rebuild together, wanting to rebuild a resilient tourism sector that is going to build and make the economies of our countries bounce back better, and they are coming with new ideas,” Kereng said. “They are coming bubbling with energy; they want to energize the government, they want to energize every key stakeholder and player to a better way of doing business within the tourism sector.”

But poor roads and limited flights in parts of Africa too often force travel to a regional hub, or even outside the continent, for connecting flights to neighboring countries.

African tourism insiders say there are major hurdles to intra-African travel.

“One of the challenges we face on this continent is visas for ourselves as Africans, most Country A to Country B, and the second issue is connectivity,” said Kwakye Donkor, chief executive of Africa Tourism Partners, a Pan-African tourism development marketing and advisory firm. “[For instance], coming to Botswana some of them have to travel across different places, different countries to get here. And not only that, the private sector has to role play in the cost of travel, to drive this particular initiative.”

German market and consumer data company Statista says COVID-19 cost Africa’s tourism sector $87 billion when the pandemic hit in 2020.

But there are signs of a strong revival.

The United Nations World Tourism Organization says in 2022 international arrivals across Africa were up 171%.

Source : VOA News

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