Dallas – Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) must harness peace as its chief dividend to attract more international tourists, according to Walter Mzembi, Zimbabwe’s minister of tourism and hospitality.
“SSA should leverage the peace in our region at a much greater collective level,” Mzembi told Fin24 at the global summit of the World Travel and Tourism Council taking place in Dallas this week.
“Just see how the absence of peace has discounted the travel and tourism products in North and certain parts of East Africa.”
He pointed out that Africa’s share of the global travel and tourism industry is between 3% and 5% in terms of arrivals and revenue. The continent sees about 53 million arrivals per year and the industry on the continent has a total value of about $34bn.
About 50% of the market share in SSA belongs to South Africa.
“In the SADC source market we have not seen South Africa as a competitor, but rather as a competitor as well as a collaborator. There is, therefore, rather a so-called ‘coopetition’ with SA,” explained Mzembi.
“SA is also the hub for air accessibility to SADC markets via the OR Tambo airport. SA has a strategic role for SADC tourism.”
In Mzembi’s view the second aspect the SSA region can leverage for its travel and tourism industry is its people with their “hospitality characteristics”. A third is to leverage the region's pristine biodiversity.
“Together these three aspects – peace, people and biodiversity – create an excellent tourism product for the SSA,” said Mzembi.
“We must just guarantee our international source markets a decent product and we could grow our SSA tourism three-fold as we have a natural mix and product,” he said.
He would like to see greater international access created for the region’s tourism market by means of, for example, more budget airlines to provide access to different tourist products.
“We must develop infrastructure," he said, adding that he was encouraged by the elimination of borders through more pacts at bilateral level.
“We need to integrate beyond just the trans-frontier conservation areas. Actually, the animals are showing us the way – we must follow and remove the colonial borders.”
On the other hand, he sees currency behaviours as one of the main challenges for tourism in the region. The depreciation of the rand has certainly impacted Zimbabwe’s tourism industry, which prefers the US dollar as base currency.
This has made it more expensive for South Africans – a big source market – and the net impact has been a reduction of SA as a source market in the SADC region. He pointed out that the depreciation of the rand, on the other hand, does help SA to attract more international travellers.
“We are discussing with the Zimbabwe tourism industry to try and see how we can solve the challenge brought by the depreciation of the rand,” said Mzembi.
In the long term, he sees the development and growth of Africa’s middle class as important for the continent’s travel and tourism industry. He also believes it is important to create destinations in SSA which would be particularly interesting for Chinese tourists. Destinations of particular interest to Indian tourists should also be developed.
At the same time destinations attractive for current source markets in Europe and the US, for example, must not be neglected. He would also like to see members of the African diaspora and African Americans travelling to SSA as tourists.
* Fin24 is a guest of the WTTC at its global summit.