African tourism on spotlight at ATLF 2022

…as ATP, Botswana push for intra-African exchanges, inclusive approach

From the friendly immigration staff and their seamless processing of visa-on-arrival at Sir Seretse Khama International Airport, transfers to hotels, meet and greet by the organisers, exciting welcome and opening shows, the 2022 edition of the African Tourism Leadership Forum (ATLF) was a spectacle to behold, amid lingering memories for the participants.

Again, the venues were appropriate and kudos to the organisers sense of judgment. The Peermont Walmont Hotel at The Grand Palm, Gaborone, the host hotel and the Gaborone International Convention Center (GICC), host venue, combined their world-class facilities to aid the huge success of the forum, which was easily attested by delegates from across the world, most of whom were in Botswana for the first time.

For three days, October 24-26, 2022, over 400 delegates, across industry thought leaders and value chain from over 40 countries across the world, especially from within the continent, gathered under one roof to think, rethink and act tourism at this year’s ATLF, which is the 5th edition.

To underscore the importance of the event, Mokgweetsi Masisi, president of Botswana, graced the ATLF 2022 with his eminent presence. Of course, that is expected of a president who knows the potential of tourism and is willing to grow the sector for more impact on lives and the economy at large.

In his speech at the opening ceremony, the Botswana president commended the organisers for berthing the event in his country for the first, despite having preferred bidders, while highlighting the huge potential of the tourism industry and the need for sector stakeholders to collaborate for the common good of the continent’s tourism.

“Our Continent is renowned for its beauty and the quality of establishments and high service excellence. Now more than ever before, we must continue to maintain this enviable reputation. However, to harness this potential we have to work together. The only way to achieve success and unprecedented tourism growth, and job creation, is by coming together, capitalizing on each other’s strengths and working as one,” President Masisi emphasized.

Considering the fact that Africa is part of today’s fast-paced world, President Masisi urged African tourism entrepreneurs, think-tanks, SMEs and other stakeholders to take advantage of technology in order to create platforms for inclusive engagements and enforce the needed paradigm shift in the continent’s travel and tourism sector.

On the push for intra-Africa travel and exchanges, which many said is being hampered by a lack of political will by governments across Africa, the president noted that his government has formulated a new tourism policy that will promote active citizens participation and also encourage more exchanges with other African countries.

He disclosed further that Botswana is encouraging intra-Africa travel with its easy visa and designation of some countries as visa-free.

Excited with the good news from Botswana, Kwakye Donkor, CEO, African Tourism Partners (ATP), organisers of the forum, noted that Botswana has shown a good example with the new tourism policy, and that the 54 countries and their huge population offer great business potential for SMEs and private sector in the travel sector, amid booming travels that will impact Africa’s economy positively.

“As a gathering of industry thought leaders, this year’s Forum is focused on advancing the call of the sector to be intentional about practicalise measures and initiatives that will strengthen and accelerate intra-Africa travel and tourism development through trade, partnerships and investments,” Donkor said earlier in his message.

Also considering that the globe fast recovering from the impact of the pandemic, the war in Russia and talks of global recession, which may likely impact Africa’s tourism arrivals and receipts, Donkor explained that against the above background, the 5th ATLF & Awards was focused on igniting intra-Africa tourism through inclusive intra-Africa trade, partnerships and Investments.

“I am pleased to indicate that ATP is committed to working with host Botswana and the rest of the continent as well as partners such as the UNWTO, BDO, ICCA and others to champion this course.

“It is our believe that ATP will continue to collaborate and work across the African tourism ecosystem to strengthen Brand Africa’s Competitiveness with a futuristic mindset,” the ATP CEO said further.

The ATLF 2022 had many exciting programmes even from the opening day on private sector and masterclasses on digitalization, Meetings Incentives and Conferencing sector (MICE), among others.

The good thing and in line with lessons learnt during the pandemic, the ATLF 2022 has hybrid platforms as well to enable those who cannot make it to Botswana to participate and contribute also.

The flexibility of the meetings excited Wincey Ramaphoi, acting board chairperson for Botswana Tourism Organisation, who was glad that ATLF 2022 was happening at a time Africa was in need to build its productive capacities, deepen regional integration and pursue economic diversification.

Apart from the MICE and Digitalisation sessions, there was also a private sector and national tourism organisations roundtable, where experts aired their views on the way forward for African tourism.

One of the experts, Elcia Grandcourt, regional director for Africa at the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), proposed more exchanges across Africa to spur economic growth within the continent, curb revenue leakages and capital flight to destinations outside of Africa by Africans.

Grandcourt, who spoke at one of the many sessions of the forum on the topic, “Implementing measures to curtail tourism leakages in African Tourism economies”, summarized her talk with a call for Africans to ‘eat, wear and buy Africa’.

Also speaking at the forum, Didier Scaillet, CEO, SITE Belgium, said that Africa has a huge untapped travel market and should learn from Europe, which has the highest number of intra-continent travels and exchanges.

Earlier at the Ministerial Session, Ibrahim Awal, minister of Art, Tourism and Culture, Ghana, called on African governments to do more on removing bottlenecks to intra-Africa travels and take advantage of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) to trade among themselves.

“Let us remove the barriers that limit us because it is sad that trade within the continent is 14 percent, it is 72 percent in Europe and more in other continents, 1.3 billion people is big for thriving trade and intra-Africa travel,” the Ghanaian minister said.

Read also: Promotion of national, heritage sites, key to boost tourism in Africa – Pratt

Among the many highlights of the forum was the awards night where personalities, companies and organisations with exceptional performances and innovations were recognized and rewarded.

Some of the winners include: City of Cape Town as winner of the Most innovative business tourism destination award; The Oyster Box for Outstanding Accommodation Facility/Group Award; SA Airlink for Outstanding Tourism Transportation Award; Ghana Tourism Authority for Outstanding Africa Tourism Media and marketing Award, while Destination Africa Lifetime Award went to Ibrahim Awal, minister of tourism Ghana, for his contribution to tourism development in Ghana in the last three years.

The Ghanaian Minister dedicated the award to participants in the tourism value chain across Africa and sued for youth involvement in tourism across the continent.

However, the most beneficiary of the ATLF 2022 is Philda Kereng, minister of Environment and Tourism, Botswana. With the gathering of the world in Botswana for three days, the country’s tourism has pushed forward and looks forward to more exchanges from the delegates as individuals, groups, corporates and at country levels.

“I wish to express our gratitude to Africa Tourism Partners who pioneered this great initiative and our sponsors and supporting partners most importantly the United Nations World Tourism Organisation for working hard and ensuring the success of this event, and equally leading a flagship tourism event on the continent over the past four years; we appreciate your support and working relationship that has allowed ATLF & Awards to grow from strength to  strength,” Kereng said.

Meanwhile, ATP, organisers of ATLF, is looking forward to a more exciting edition next year, but urged implementation of recommendations at this year’s edition, especially encouraging intra-Africa exchanges starting at their own levels.