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An interesting panel discussion on ‘Gearing up for growth in the rest of the African markets’ was held at INDABA 2015. Among the esteemed panellists were Marcel von Aulock (Tsogo Sun CEO), Dr Petrus de Kock (Research Manager, Brand South Africa), Thulani Nzima (South African Tourism CEO) and Cherae Robinson (Tastemakers Africa CEO).

They answered questions about tourism on the African continent. Here are some of the highlights.

Thulani Nzima
Thulani Nzima
Marcel von Aulock
Marcel von Aulock
Dr Petrus De Kock
Dr Petrus De Kock
Cherae Robinson
Cherae Robinson

How would you describe the state of tourism on the continent now compared with three years ago?

Thulani Nzima: “For too long the continent has been described as a continent with potential. It’s about time we start realising that potential. In the past year, the world reached the magical figure of 1.1bn global travellers, yet Africa attracted just under 5% of the global travel market, or 56-million travellers. South Africa attracts just under 2% of the market. So we need to look at collective growth for the continent and increasing that share.”

What is the one thing we should be doing on this continent?

Thulani Nzima: “When people think of the continent they think safari. We are much more than that and that is what we need to show them. We need to leverage off our unique selling points. The one thing we have in common across Africa is the warmth of our people, which is very difficult to match anywhere else in the world. The biodiversity that exists in Africa is also unparalleled and we also have to be the dominant player in terms of the safari experience. We must realise that travellers are now looking for continental products so African countries must work together to present these.”

The continent is grappling with a lot of issues that discourage tourism. How are you spreading the word that it is not as bad out there as is being reported?

Petrus de Kock: “There’s a schizophrenia when it comes to reporting on the African continent. The business press writes about 10 – 15 years of sustained growth on the continent and our colleagues from across Africa acknowledge economic growth rates of six, seven and eight percent per year. So there is this triumph of Africa rising, but you also have a narrative of a continent perpetually caught in conflict, which is simply not true. If you travel to Kenya, Nigeria or Ghana today you find very different societies to what you found 20 years ago. At Brand South Africa, we tell the story of a continent that is engaging with its own changing reality, of economies that are growing and of young, dynamic societies and populations.”

Are governments on the continent really supporting tourism?

Petrus de Kock: “It varies from environment to environment. In South Africa, we are blessed with South African Tourism and their dedication to growing the industry.”

Cherae Robinson: “In South Africa you have a very forward thinking tourism board that gets that digital is a big place where travellers are making decisions. But in other African countries, many governments are still marketing Africa like they were doing 20 years ago, and a lot of them have not moved to the type of media interfaces that today’s traveller is using to make their travel decisions.”

Thulani Nzima: “Governments need to appreciate the value of tourism for job creation, in its potential as a contributor to a country’s economic well-being, and for transformation. Some governments in Africa have not prioritised tourism and didn’t realise the value it can bring to their people.”

Marcel von Aulock: “In the African scenario, it is business travel that has created the tourist market. If you look at Nigeria or Mozambique from 15 years ago, travelling in those countries was pretty challenging. But because of business developments in those countries over the past 15 years a local commercial market developed, and people started seeing Africa as accessible. An intra-regional movement has also changed the way people see African countries.”

How do we make transport or mobility across the continent easier? A lot of people say it’s easier to travel from Africa to Dubai than to travel from Senegal to Malawi or Malawi to Nigeria.

Thulani Nzima: “ The continent has been battling with open skies. The Yamoussoukro Declaration, signed in 1999, which called for the liberalisation of African skies, has still not been implemented. Nor has the Univisa system – the single visa system for SADC countries – that would allow travellers to travel freely between those countries. We’ve seen the success of countries that have opened up their borders and allowed free movement of tourists between them – Schengen for example. We need to make it possible for tourists to easily travel between African countries from an airlift and visa point of view, doing away with unnecessary barriers and restrictions.”

Petrus de Kock: “We must enable more travel between regions of the continent because we want more intra-African trade, not just tourism. The continent was built in an era of colonialism, to extract people and resources. It was not built for interaction among African states and that’s the radical challenge that we face today.”

A closing comment from Marcel von Aulock:

“As a corporate we’ve spent about R5-billion in the last two years and we’ve got about R3-billion to go and all of it is being spent in South Africa and Africa. We’ve chosen to invest in Africa because there is growth and there is opportunity. Notwithstanding bad visa and legislation decisions, and a host of other problematic policy decisions, what you do see in South Africa and Africa is a growth potential that you battle to find anywhere else in the world.”