The travel and tourism industry is recognizing World Tourism Day. Founded in 1980 by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), each year World Tourism Day brings together the global tourism community to highlight a significant theme with implications for destinations large, small, cosmopolitan, and rural, on every continent.
This year’s theme, “tourism for all, promoting universal accessibility,” touches on one of the most salient tenets of travel – mobility and inclusivity. According to the UNWTO, “accessible tourism for all is about creating products and services that can equally be enjoyed by persons with disabilities, tourists and locals, families with small children, seniors and everyone else.”
According to 2015 UNWTO figures, Africa welcomed 62.6 international tourists, a decline of 2.7 million from the year prior, yet there is no greater region with the potential to boost accessibility for local, regional, and international visitors than in Africa. And in 2016, we have seen tremendous strides in making Africa a more accessible destination.
“Africa has some of the most exciting and unique tourism experiences. The focus on tourism inclusivity and accessibility for all, presents African entrepreneurs with tremendous economic opportunities to develop tourism products, services, supply chains, and technology platforms to accelerate Africa’s tourism sector growth and sustainability,” said Charles Leyeka Lufumpa, Director of the Statistics Department, African Development Bank.
This year’s Tourism Day celebrations coincide with the launching in July 2016, of the African Union’s electronic passport (e-Passport). “This flagship project, first agreed upon in 2014, falls squarely within the framework of Africa’s Agenda 2063 and has the specific aim of facilitating free movement of persons, goods and services around the continent – in order to foster intra-Africa trade, integration and socio-economic development,” according to the African Union.
Preceding this, regional cooperation agreements like the East Africa Community Visa between Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) uni-visa connecting 15 countries, and the West African Visa des Pays de l’Entente connect regions across Africa and boost the flow of intra-Africa trade, travel, and investment.
The African Development Bank has financed infrastructure projects that have facilitated access to tourist sites or improved air travel via regional hubs. Each year, the Bank publishes the Africa Tourism Monitor, a joint publication which tracks the latest trends in tourism on the continent. The Bank has also developed,
alongside its partners, the Africa Visa Openness Index, to track visa openness on the continent, a key to mobility of tourism and talent.
Africa tourism’s sector is resilient and thriving. With the rise in connectivity, ICT infrastructure development, and mobile phone penetration, travel to Africa has never been more virtually and physically accessible. However, challenges remain. For the continent to truly reap the benefits of tourism, infrastructure improvements are needed and barriers to mobility need to be reduced. The continent boasts a wealth of natural and historical attractions – from pristine beaches and archeological sites, to abundant wildlife, jaw-dropping landscapes and rich cultural traditions – but if the cost of travel is too high or services are lacking, tourists will go elsewhere.
Blog: Unlocking the potential of the tourism industry in Africa
Across the continent, World Tourism Day will be celebrated with official activities, events, and innovative tourism developments, which take place all across the continent, from Algeria, Benin, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, Togo, and to Uganda.
Activities are hosted by government and private sector tourism authorities from large cities to rural areas, promoting international and domestic tourism, as well as celebrating local culture and heritage. Some festivities take place on World Tourism Day itself, while others commemorate the tourism sector throughout the month.
As Taleb Rifai, Secretary-General of World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), stated, “15% of the world’s population is estimated to live with some kind of disability or another. This is…about 1 billion people around the world who may be unable to enjoy the privileges of knowing other cultures, experiencing nature at its fullest and experiencing the thrill of embarking on a journey to explore new sights and new places.”
Bank-financed infrastructure projects that have facilitated access to the continent and its tourist attractions:
Morocco: Modernizing air transport in the most visited African country
Morocco has regularly invested in air transport over the past decade. AfDB-financed airport modernization and air safety programs in 1992, 2001 and 2009 have contributed to increased airport capacities, in Fez, Agadir, Marrakech and Rabat, in particular. Morocco has also opened its skies to new airline companies and reinforced its safety certification, attracting international tourism. As a result, Casablanca has become a transit hub for West Africa, and the benefit of its openness has helped to the local tourism economy. On average, Morocco receives more than 10 million visitors per year.
Fufulso Road project facilitating tourism in northern Ghana
In northern Ghana, the rehabilitation of the 147-kilometre road connecting Fufulso and Sawla through a US $168-million loan in 2010 improved accessibility to major tourist sites, like the Larabanga Mystic Stone and the ancient Mosque at Larabanga. Part of the loan has been directly dedicated to tourism, creating parking spaces and sign posts along the road, and financing the construction of a conservation museum at the entrance of Mole National Park.
Coastal protection in The Gambia
In The Gambia, seaside tourism represents more than 10% of the GDP, but tourism infrastructure, historic sites and even the city of Banjul are highly vulnerable to coastal erosion. In 2001, the AfDB financed the construction of breakwaters in various part of the coast, contributing to protect the beaches. In 2016, The Gambia has been granted US $1.5 million under the Climate Investment Funds’ Pilot Program for Climate Resilience (CIF PPCR) to prepare a national Strategic Program for Climate Resilience (SPCR).
The AfDB is leveraging the experience from the coastal protection project in The Gambia for the design of other coastal protection projects such as the upcoming Benin/Togo project.
Nairobi –Addis Ababa road corridor opens up access to northern Kenya and southern Ethiopia Even though Ethiopia and Kenya share a 1,000-kilometre-long boarder, they do not have a single asphalt road serving the two countries. Part of the Trans African Highway 4, the Mombasa–Nairobi–Addis Ababa road corridor will remedy that important gap on transport networks in Eastern Africa, connecting Ethiopia to the Indian Ocean, through Kenya. As it nears completion, that major route will fostered bilateral and regional trade and also open up access to many national parks in southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya, including the Samburu National Reserve and the Losai National Reserve