From many parts of the world, 111 tourism gurus, notably African Tourism Ministers, professors of Tourism, diplomats and technocrats in from East, West, Central and Southern Africa, the United States, India, Nepal, Spain and the UK, have converged at the Ghana’s capital city, Accra.
From today, August 17 through Wednesday, August 19th, they will be locked in deliberations whose end is to attempt to rebrand Africa to enable her to reap the fruit of her tourism promotion efforts.
On the theme, “Brand Africa, Fostering Tourism Development”, the conference is the first of its kind in Africa. It is the brainchild of the Madrid-based UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) whose staff are already on the ground in Accra. In fact, both the Ministry of Tourism and the International Conference Centre have been turned into offices of UNWTO.
The conference is part-sponsored by CNN, the world’s leading television news cable network, and Ethiopian Airlines, Africa’s finest.
At the head table at the International Conference Centre this morning, will be the Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organisation, Dr Taleb Rifai. By his side will be UNWTO Regional Programme Director for Africa, Earl Grandcourt. On his other side will be the chief host, the President of the Republic of Ghana, John Dramani Mahama, and his capable Minister of Tourism, Culture and Creative Arts, Elizabeth Ofosu-Adjare.
Tourism is one of Africa’s most promising sectors in terms of development. At present, the continent’s share is only six per cent. Worse, no country in Africa comes within the first ten major tourism destinations on the global league table.
In 2014, Africa received 56 million international tourists up from 26 million in 2000. International tourism receipts in Africa currently amount to US$ 36 billion or 7% of all exports in the continent.
International tourist arrivals to Africa, which had been growing at an average of 5 per cent a year in the previous two years, grew by only 2 per cent in 2014 under the impact of the misperception about the health and security risks.
Over the two days, presentations will seek to get to the bottom of the problem. Together with these experts and private operators, the political heads will seek to redress the imbalance in the tourism’s terms of trade.
One of the biggest challenges identified has been the “frightening image”of Africa in the eyes of international tourists, especially the big spenders from the West and from China, the rising star in world tourism. At the back of every presenter’s mind at this conference will be the question why the continent is unable to take advantage of the capacity of the tourism sector to contribute to socio-economic development, though everybody agrees that it is because Africa’s efforts are often hindered by such negative perception, such as using crises situations in specific countries and generalizing them to the whole of a country or the region.
Speaker after speaker, therefore, the experts will seek to make the statement that Africa must re-branded or perish. Indeed, there are many who are hoping and praying that President Mahama will use the platform to vent the spleen of African leaders on international media organizations whose reportage has partly given and continues to give the continent its bad image.
While some think that Africa is her own worst enemy and that the corruption, greed and economic mismanagement have bedeviled the continent’s developmental effort, there are others who think the conference is an opportunity to place on record the real historical antecedents of the image problem, including deliberate efforts to dehumanize Africans and paint the continent in colours that have frightened and continue to scare off European, American and other tourists.
These radical Africans will also press on to argue that as a matter of fact,there are numerous positive stories of the continent that do not manage to reach a global audience. That role belongs to the international media and to cinema
The expert presentations will be complemented by experiences of practitioners from other African countries. More importantly, the conference will strike a balance between national tourism organisations and private sector operators such as tour operators and travel agencies.
Besides the obvious benefits the conference has for Africa as a whole, what is also at stake is Ghana’s ability as an excellent host. MrsOfosu-Adjare, the Tourism Minister has said at various forums and in media interviews that “Ghana will prove to the world what everybody acknowledges as our forte; that is, the Ghanaian’s in-born ability to cause the visitor to smile and smile again.
Ghana already has a respectable image within UNWTO circles.What Elizabeth Ofosu-Adjare and her directors and staff within the Ministry, the Ghana Tourism Authority (GTA), Ghana Tourist Development Company (GTDC), the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board, among others, will be seeking to do by this conference is to put a few more feathers in Ghana’s cap as an “the excellent host”, offering an experience worth repeating.
By Enimil Ashon