The Africa Business Forum high-level panel with two heads of states attending discussed investing in multimodal transport Infrastructure to optimize the benefits of the African Continental Free Trade Area. The focus was on Air Transport and Tourism”

Dr. Walter Mzembi, the former foreign affairs, and long-serving tourism and hospitality minister for Zimbabwe represented the World Tourism Network. WTN is a U.S.-based organization launched in 2020 with members in 128 countries. The World Tourism Network has been facilitating the discussion on the impact of COVID-19 on the travel and tourism sector. Dr. Mzembi is one of the organization’s vice presidents and chair of the African Chapter.

Dr. Mzembi concluded at the Addis Ababa hosted African Business Forum:


In 1950 global international arrivals were just a mere   2 million travelers, since then on the back of the aviation revolution the global market has grown exponentially at least up to 2019 before the Covid 19 Pandemic to 1.47 billion arrivals!

I am yet to see any sector which can challenge this bullish growth by travel and tourism..

It doesn’t surprise therefore that notwithstanding the temporary setbacks of the Pandemic, travel, and tourism is still rated by the UN WESP 2022 Report (World Economic Situation Prospects) as the 3rd largest Export and important Sector after fuels and chemicals, a key stimulant of global economic recovery.

The big question is, is it on the planning dashboard of our African national economies and Regional Economic Communities let alone the African Union in terms of priority as an economic recovery stimulator to the extent that it is to our source markets and their own RECs such as the European Union?

If it is, why is Africa’s share of both global arrivals and income suppressed below 5% for as long as I can remember to this day? So 55 African Countries are contended only to split 5% of this industry whose direct exports revenue was $1.8 trillion in 2019 and close to 10 % of global GDP?

  • How and who measures the performance of this sector and to what extent?
  • How accurate are our African statistics which are often an interpolation and estimate of historical performance?

There is a saying that says: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t know it”.

So even as I contemplate policy prescriptions for this important sector I bring forward the issue of National Tourism Satellite Accounting as a priority area for consideration by Governments and along with it, an entire exercise on definitions.

Is this sector still understood and steeped in its luxury definition as a consumable product for the rich and elite of our society, the international traveler and celebrities or do we seek to make it a Human Right consistent with our commitments elsewhere on Travel as a Human right?

  • Do we really see it as a facilitator and accelerator of the AfCTA and the lowest hanging fruit inside its recent mandate?
  • If we do, where are the building blocks at the regional level of Travel and Tourism that should anchor and align themselves to the AfCTA mission?
  • Whose travel and tourism experience do we seek to facilitate and enable in the first instance?
  • Is it that of international tourism which we evidently capture to the exclusion of or domestic tourism and African investors whom we seem not to see at all?
  • How do we differentiate for example the thorny issue of intra Africa migration from regional tourism or shopping tourism from cross border trading and hustling?
  • Are our migration policies at the national level speaking to tourism policies? What is the difference between a visitor and a tourist?
  • Do we conduct regular comprehensive Visitor Exit surveys within the continent and in our national economies to assist us in formulating responsive policies to travel and tourism and migration itself both key elements going forward of an AfCTA and attendant to that designing multimodal transportation systems that facilitate the two?

Before the policy proposals, the last pertinent question is on the necessity by African Countries to each host a National Airline even when the economics of doing so are blunt to the contrary, done at great cost and hemorrhage to ficus and attendant gross mismanagement, deliberate and unintended.

  • Why is the logic of Airline consolidations escaping Regional integration ?
  • The logic of domestication of air travel and its integration at the regional level, why is this not pursued?
  • Models like Central Africa Airlines during the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland in the 50s and 60s?

I answer this briefly with some policy proposals not new but require emphasis and amplification.

Refocusing the frontier of Africa’s Tourism Development

  • A benchmark of Chinese Tourism in 2019 to the entire African Continent is necessary to demonstrate the power of domestic tourism and travel and planning for it.
  • There were 155 million outbound tourists from China to other destinations, 145 million arrivals who generating $131billion in receipts on the contrary there were approximately 6 billion domestic trips/arrivals generating $824 billion in revenue.
  • A more lenient comparison by Africa in contrast to the above would be its 2018 performance of 67 million arrivals generating $194.2 billion revenue representing 8.5% of its GDP and a 56% contribution by domestic tourism compared to 44% from international traffic, 71% leisure tourism and only 29% ascribed to business tourism.
  • Although a considerable improvement is seen due to more business friendly policies and MICE initiatives particularly by Rwanda, South Africa, Kenya and Ethiopia.
  • This reinforces the need to ramp up domestic and regional tourism as they are more sustainable in the face of increased unilateral action by Nation States as they battle the Covid – 19 pandemic and impose travel sanctions and advisories on each other
  • Essentially, Africa has not performed well and the statistics show that to recover, domestic and inter-regional travel should be facilitated and enabled through more robust government intervention and policy prescriptions
  • Domestic travel and tourism while in 2019 stood at 55% in Africa, it was far below other comparisons to Europe (83%), Asia and the Pacific (74%) and North America (83%).
  • The recent 2021 figures show that African Tourism has declined to 21% of its peak performance and thus calling for more assertive tourism leadership and creativity for a rebound.
  • Destinations are designing policies and enforcing regulations that retain value in their countries through punitive departure taxation and even weaponising Covid -19 regulations against outbound travel long considered a leakage if outbound expenditure is greater than inbound expenditure and arrivals .
    Analyses therefore include whether a country has a nett positive or negative travel balance.
  • The central critiques is to leverage domestic, intracontinental and inter-regional travel and tourism on the back of aggressive National Visit and Africa Must Visit Africa campaigns!

The key institutional and Policy Prescriptions to achieve this will include inter alia

  1. Brand Africa
  2. Africa has 55 countries and 55 unique brands but treated as one contiguous country and destination.
  3. When one of the brands is not performing it poses collateral damage to the entire continental brand.

UN Africa Business Forum, Addis Ababa 2022

  • The projection of Africa through the 55 country brands lack strategic comprehensive coordination, packaging, communication and positioning at the continental level to be competitive.
  • The process of Brand Africa should be Government Led (from the country level, Sub-Regional Level), Private Sector Driven and Community Oriented. Brand Africa Project should be commissioned at the AU level as a matter of urgency
  • Tourism Policy Institutionalisation
  • Sub-regional institutional configurations are key and in this regard, bureaucrats and politicians should interrogate the efficacy of re-establishing and establishing Tourism Regional Institutions such as the once upon vibrant but now defunct RETOSA (Regional Tourism Organisation of Southern Africa) in the SADC region and East Africa Tourism Organisation.
  • At the continental level, the Brand Africa Project requires institutionalisation.
  • Clearly, Tourism, like other economic sectors such as Trade and Commerce, Agriculture and Mining, is important to the extent that it requires a stand-alone institutional presence at the AU to build continental solidarity, articulate common challenges and address the challenges to ensure the sector’s competitiveness at the continental level.
  • Its stand-alone absence implies that the sector is buried in other sectors hence it is not getting the prominence it deserves.
  • This organisational change at sub-regional and continental level facilitate Travel and Tourism in Africa.
  • Essentially, it enhances the lobbying for strategic deployment and powerful presence of Africa at inter-governmental agency level such as the UNWTO, take over leadership of such UN Agencies to advance both the global and African Travel and Tourism Agenda.
  • Therefore, our proposal is to have a strong African Institutional presence at the sub-regional level and at the continental level around which synergies with the UNWTO Commission for Africa can find its place for stronger collaboration, coordination and getting support for the recovery, development and transformation of Travel and Tourism in Africa.
  • Currently, there is no link between the African Union, the sub-regions in Africa and the UNWTO, which fragmentation affects coordination of Travel and Tourism agenda.
  • As such, the resolutions prescribed at the UNWTO level, float in Madrid, the Headquarters of UNWTO because at the Continental and Sub-Regional Level, there are no robust structures for implementation, leaving such processes to the whims of the individual Ministers to cherry pick what they want to implement.

The Proposal:

  • The most strategic proposal is to consider the transformation of the unit on tourism in the AU and consummate a fully-fledged African Tourism Organisation (ATO) with mandatory country membership, buttressed with voluntary affiliate and Associational membership of strategic entities and organisations that support Travel and Tourism in Africa.
  • Lack of this structure is disabling the take-off of the AfCTA whose mandate really starts with the lowest hanging fruit, Travel and Tourism. Essentially, the continental Open Trade and Investment value chain starts with Travel – Visit – Trade and Invest.
  • Ideally, no serious investor makes a decision on trade and investment before the reconnaissance visit, and multiple other visits to confirm desktop studies and of late, virtual reality. Even metarverse teleporting experiences will not entirely substitute the physical visits.
  • Visa openness
  •  Visa on arrival to all African citizens, is key in the transformation of Travel and Tourism, and this can significantly improve intra-African trade. Gridlocking our countries in visa regimes, locks out business and is not helpful to Africa.
  • Indeed, there is evidence to demonstrate the advantages of increased mobility.
  • Not only the Schengen Agreement and the Gulf Cooperation Council, but also some African countries have eased visa restrictions, which demonstrate this reality. Rwanda, for one, is a strong supporter of Visa Free Africa.
  • With the Visa on arrival to all African citizens. Dispensation, the country saw a 24% increase in tourism arrivals and a 50% increase in intra-African trade. Trade with the Democratic Republic of the Congo alone increased by 73% since the implementation of the policy.
  • And when Rwanda abolished work permits for East African citizens, the country’s trade with Kenya and Uganda increased by at least 50%.
  • Seychelles too saw benefits as one of the few completely visa-free countries in Africa. After adopting the policy, Seychelles saw an average 7% increase per year in international tourism into the country between 2009 and 2014.
  • Ultimately, by 2035, Africa will see an extra 192 million passengers a year bringing the total market to 303 million passengers traveling to and from African destinations.
  • Thus, while challenges exist, so do the opportunities according to these forecasts. With public-private partnerships visa upgrading infrastructure, open skies, and visa liberalisation, Aviation in Africa is sure to soar.

The question now is:

  • How soon can we make this happen and implement these measures?
  • Going forward, visas need rethinking and we should eliminate the difficulties in obtaining or remove the visas completely to enhance intra-Africa Travel and Tourism.
  • The reality is that visa openness underpins the continent’s tourism sector and can create many more skilled jobs.
  • The AfDB’s Africa Tourism Monitoring Report outlines that a visa liberalisation scheme could increase tourism by 5% to 25%. It is noted in the same report that increased tourism will give rise to new businesses opportunities in transport, hotels, shopping malls and restaurants.
  • Essentially, for the 60% of African youth who are currently unemployed, this means a new job market, which also prevents not only unwanted migration of the young to other countries and Europe, but also deals with local brain drain in the long run.

Connectivity – A Game Changer

Individual state balance sheets cannot sustain airlines notwithstanding the importance attached to national pride and Sovereign identity.

Governments should consider collaborative aviation products as well as shaping a dynamic African aviation sector. To this end, the critical issue of liberalization will bring strong outcomes:

  • new routes
  • more frequent flights
  • better connections
  • lower fares.

It is conceivable that such improvements potentially increase the number of passengers, which will have both direct and indirect positive effects on Travel, Tourism, and Trade in Africa.

Thus, according to an IATA survey, if just 12 key African countries opened their markets and increased connectivity, an extra 155,000 jobs and USD 1.3 billion in annual GDP would be created in those countries.

A study by InterVISTAS Consulting shows an in South Africa, liberalization could yield an estimated 15,000 new jobs and generate USD 284 million in national revenues.

On the other hand, the lack of liberalisation affects connectivity and ticket costs.

In most cases, most travelers inefficiently and expensively fly to a second or third country, including going to Europe or the Middle East before reaching the final destination in Africa. This is due to connectivity problems because the African countries have not liberalized.

Across the globe, on average, low-cost carriers operate about a quarter of all flights. In Africa, however, they don’t even reach 10%, which obviously makes ticket prices somewhat prohibitive.

So what’s ahead for Africa’s skies?

  1. Open skies policy: Full implementation of the Yamoussoukro Decision.
  • Institute the Single African Air Transport Market that aims to open up Africa’s skies and improve intra-African air connectivity. So far, 26 African countries have signed up but on implementation, there is little political will.
  • Support regional airlines Ethiopian Airlines and Kenyan Airlines in East Africa,
  • Support Asky in Togo, West Africa
  • Support South African Airways in South Africa. Southern Africa offers a great prospects for the transformation of the continent’s Travel, Tourism and Trade.
  • Support Egypt Air in North Africa.
  • Beyond support of Regional Airlines must be Open Sky policies , Air Service Agreements , easing of tariff barriers and new Infrastructure that improves Destination Accessibilty and Connectivity .
  • Global Airlines can be at the palm of Nations rather than supporting at ridiculous costs the subsistence of National Airlines and cut out the unnecessary fragmentation that is now obtaining across the Continent.

Institutionalisation of tourism from the national, sub-regional and continental level, buttressed with modernising transportation infrastructure, improving on travel facilitation requires both investment and expertise from the countries and more importantly, the political will to ensure this sector functions fully.

Ideally, there is a need for governments to be more decisive in their policy decisions and implementation to ensure that business thrives.

In addition, it is imperative to emphasize public-private partnerships, which Africa needs to open its doors for private capital investment to realize its full potential in the travel and tourism sector.

However, the development of Tourism is dependent on the AU taking a position with support from UN Agencies such as UNECA to ensure that tourism is institutionalised and inaugurated as one of the key sectors that can change the socio-economic situation in Africa.



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