Africa must look beyond beaches and whites to boost tourism - Kenyan minister

For too long the tourism industry in Africa thought everybody must be white and come from overseas to be a tourist, according to Minister Najib Balala, cabinet secretary for tourism in Kenya.

“Tourists also used to just want to go to the beach, get a suntan and then go home. We in Africa have been lazy to change this,” he said on Wednesday at the Africa Travel Summit hosted by Airbnb at the Guga S’thebe cultural centre in the Cape Town suburb of Langa.

“South Africa is making progress in this regard, but in the rest of Africa we are worried about our cultures being intruded. Also in Africa we have been used to... the middle man who controlled what tourists wanted.”

Tourism numbers in Africa are low, because countries on the continent are not inter-connected, Balala said during a panel discussion on designing tourism that works for everybody.

Africa attracts 5% of the global tourism numbers, but the money the continent makes from it is only 3% of the global tourism industry’s value.

“Airbnb has taken tourism from big hotels in big cities to reach everywhere, whether investment is there or not,” said Balala.

He supports Airbnb as a disruptor in the tourism industry on the continent, but added that for him the only challenge with the platform is the question about how it can be taxed locally.

Balala said the African tourism industry must now leapfrog and have travellers realise they can move beyond the beach and have experiences they will remember for the rest of their lives. For this education is key, he said.

“We can see the impact of Airbnb’s technology in our rural areas where it was not used before. I also think domestic tourism has been ignored too much in Africa. In Kenya it is now the driving force for the industry,” he said.

“By using technology and through promotions we can tell people everybody can afford to travel.”

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