African univisa the way forward
AFRICA still remains one of the major tourist attractions of the world, with favourable weather, man made tourist attractions and those sired by natural phenomena, yet it remains on the periphery on the world tourism economy, only picking up crumbs dropping from the high table of the world tourism family.
Europe and America, the continents that have wire-snared their wildlife to near extinction, the continents that have turned flora jungles into concrete or cement jungles of tarred roads and skyscrapers, remain the major beneficiaries of the rich tourism pickings, using their financial and political muscle.
Statistics on the ground show that the world over, tourism employs 240 million people and generates US$1,3 trillion in direct earnings, yet Africa only earns less than 4 percent.
It is fact not fiction that it is the wish of almost every discerning European tourist to visit Africa see wildlife frolic and roam wild and free, experience unlimited sunshine, enjoy the frothing rivers, the soothing sunset silhouette and the culture.
The pyramids of Egypt and Timbuktu, the Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, Kenya’s Masai Mara and the multifarious array of game parks make Africa a distinct tourist destination that can favourably compete with any other tourists destination in the world in terms of beauty and attractiveness. In terms of natural attractiveness Africa is ranked world number one, yet in terms of the total packaging it is ranked the last.
One can easily understand where the problem is. A buffet of tourism marketing, development and promotion regimes churned out by western and America places Africa under very difficult conditions to access tourist wholesalers, the world over.
Western governments are quick to use tourism as a tool against countries they perceive untoward to their foreign policies. Once identified the countries are quickly put under travel warnings and at times, travel bans. Citizens are instructed not to travel to these countries on the pretext that the countries in question are hostile to them. Travel there at your own peril, so they say.
It starts with the respective embassies of those countries sending travel alerts to their governments and the government transmits the information to tourist wholesalers and the tourist themselves.
The warnings, bans and alerts are also broadcast on international media channels that take cue and bombard the citizenry with the negative information. At the end, there are more benefits for the European tourist to travel within Europe than go to Africa. The international media bombards citizens with anti-Africa propaganda until their politicians change stance. Africa on the other hand, does not have the requisite media stamina to counter the negative publicity, hence Africa is seen through the lenses of the European media houses. The few hardened tourists, who decide to come against all odds, are the ones who have told the real African story but their influence is nothing compared to the vociferous media houses.
Zimbabwe is one such country, severely affected by the travel warnings and bans that it took the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority to embark on a perception management programme, which brought internationally acclaimed artistes, just to prove that the country was safe. Millions of dollars that could have been used in tourism development were spent on hosting the celebrities, among them the Brazilian Football team.
The other problems came from the recession in Europe. Faced with financial difficulties, Europe came up with a battery of protective measures to protect the economies of member states from letting money go out to Africa. The travel warnings were further combined with high airport departures taxes, that discourage citizens from travelling outside Europe, yet the EU has a Schengen Visa that allows citizens to travel among members states freely. The game changes when travelling to Africa and other places outside Europe and US, where the stringent conditions apply. Africa on the other hand, sticks to the hodgepodge of international borders as dictated by the Berlin Conference in 1884 and still see itself through the same colonial eye and boundaries.
Each time Africa wants to come up with a United States of Africa, Europe and US are in the forefront of scuttling the plans by sponsoring regime change and splinter of thought on the unity ideology. The United States of Africa would have helped Africans not demand visas among themselves but until today, it remains a pipe dream.
Today 80 percent of tourism that benefits Africa is intra-Africa travel, which accounts for 80 percent of the travel, yet the Visa regimes still hamper more African from travel to neighbouring states. It is time Africa unites and come up with a single visa system and a powerful media coalition to counter negative publicity, otherwise it will continue feeding from the crumbs, falling from the high table.-DayAfrica.com