African countries need to focus on intra-African travel to ensure a quicker post-COVID recovery as international tourism is the last phase of a staggered upturn of the tourism sector.
“We are not used connecting to each other. We generally sell to Europe first and then Africa. We need to put our countries first by developing infrastructures to grow African travellers travelling within the continent,” said Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for the Ministry of Tourism & Wildlife, Najib Balala.
Speaking during the recent Global Travel and Tourism Resilience Council (GTTRC) virtual summit with various African tourism ministers, Balala said this was his key learning point from the global pandemic and its effect on tourism.
Balala commented: “I’ve discussed with the African Union Commission on investing in security, air connectivity and seamless accessibility. We need to ensure that Africans can easily travel to their neighbouring countries with the correct visas.”
This first summit in a series – titled, ‘Destination Reboot & Discovery: Deep Dive Africa’ – looked at how destinations around the world are dealing with the new challenges and opportunities they face because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Moderator of the summit and CEO of Victoria Falls Regional Tourism Association, Jillian Blackbeard, said that there needs to be a change of perception of travel within Africa. “As Africans, we often don’t count travelling within our continent as travel. We need to change that mentality.”
Balala agreed, noting: “There is still the colonial hangover that tells us that a traveller is a millionaire and that mind-set needs to change. The attitude of skill development in the tourism needs to change as well.”
Former Secretary General of UNWTO and Chairman of the ATB Project Hope Task Force, Dr Taleb Rifai concurred on the importance of African travellers.
“There are three phases that each country must go through to before it gets to international tourism in this current situation. Firstly, keep the industry alive through funding. Governments have really stepped up in doing so,” said Rifai.
“Secondly, move directly to domestic and regional tourism. No country can be enjoyed by international tourists if it is not enjoyed by its own people. Only then do we go into international tourism.”
Rifai highlighted that ‘COVID-resilient zones’ – bubbles in the country where there are no new infections – could be leveraged for domestic and regional travel. “You include the ways to access the zone such as air or roads and ensure that they have protocols to allow people in and out,” he explained.
Rifai pointed out the ATB had already applied certain certification measures for COVID-resilient zone in a region in Jordan and have tied it with another zone in a region in Egypt. The two zones are accessible from each country via a ferry.
“Bi-lateral agreements between COVID resilient zones are vital for the industry,” he said.
The GTTRC serves the global travel industry, facilitating planning and preparation for crisis response, recovery and resilience issues.