Growth of Africa’s tourism industry depends on policies, says Bank’s Chief Economist

29/01/2015
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The lack of proper policies aimed at generating tourist interest is a major reason why Africa’s tourism remains largely untapped, Steve Kayizzi-Mugerwa, African Development Bank Acting Chief Economist and Vice-President, said Thursday, January 29 on the occasion of a conference on tourism and investment in Africa held in Madrid, Spain. In his view, many African governments have periodically discussed the importance of tourism, but few have developed full-fledged master plans for its development.

Kayizzi-Mugerwa was in Madrid to promote tourism and investment on the African continent during the Tourism Investment and Business Forum for Africa (INVESTOUR), a joint initiative organized by the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the International Tourism Fair (FITUR) and Casa Africa, a cultural agency funded by the Spanish Government.

“Sights of historical and tourist interest are not well developed – and countries that lack coastlines have limited their tourist attractions to ‘animal watching’, with little or no socio-cultural, political and historical input,” he said. “For example, national museums are not well-funded, and are often at the bottom of the priority list.” For this reason, the continent is yet to fully benefit from what its culture, history, gastronomy and vast terrain and landscapes can offer both new and returning visitors, but also, more importantly, to Africans themselves.

Kayizzi-Mugerwa lauds policymakers for beginning to address visa issues, in order to reduce bureaucratic hindrances. This, he says, will encourage African tourism. He cites the example of East Africa, where a single visa provides travelers with access to five countries.  

The Africa Tourism Monitor, an annual publication produced by the African Development Bank in partnership with the Africa Travel Association and New York University’s Africa House, indicates that the continent received some 65 million tourists in 2013. Billions of dollars were injected in the economy. The report estimates that tourist flows will double in the next 15 years.

Kayizzi-Mugerwa said, while it is clear that tourism will continue being an important driver of growth and livelihoods in Africa, it is an overarching sector which requires input from all parts of the economy in order to succeed. To him, hotel construction could boost the domestic real estate sector, at the same time providing employment to thousands of people. When completed, hotels require workers at various levels, and also food and other supplies, which again have impact on local economies, including the beverage and agro-processing industries.

“Well-functioning tourist sectors thus have capacity to energize economies, including rural sectors, and help to modernize manufacturing and service industries. They also impart skills to youth, which can be useful in other parts of the economy,” Kayizzi-Mugerwa underscored.

About 22 African Tourism Ministries are expected to participate in the event, alongside experts from the AfDB, and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Training and Development Institute, among others.

Discussions will focus on investment in human capital and the impact of Africa’s image on direct investment in the tourism sector.

The African Development Bank supports the tourism sector both directly and indirectly. Its investments in transport, notably airport construction have been crucial to the expansion of the sector. The Bank has also funded a number of hotel projects through its private sector arm.