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Boosting travel, tourism investment in Africa through accurate data, research

Data guides decision-making. Through data, destination development and management decisions can be directed to where customer demand exists and contribute to efficiency and service quality.

For instance, in the United States, tourism trends are derived from data about visitors’ points of entry, their countries of origin, and whether they were traveling for business or pleasure. This data is used by US tourism bodies to develop forecasts to predict visitor behaviour, understand where their key markets really are, and be able to target them.

As COVID-19 and high dollar exchange rate continue to make travel and outbound tourism expensive, there is therefore no better time to improve inbound and domestic travel and tourism in Nigeria.

However, to make this a reality, there needs to be a concerted effort to truly develop strategies that can attract tourists, investments and spend within the country.

Experts in the sector shared their views on the need for data and research at the recently concluded West Africa Tourism Roundtable hosted and convened by Red Clay, a tourism advisory practice, in a bid to drive more tourism investment in Africa.

Tourism/travel’s contributions to Africa

Consumer spending on tourism, hospitality and recreation in Africa is projected to exceed US$261.77 billion by 2030.

In 2019, the travel and tourism sector directly contributed over 9 million jobs to the African economy demonstrating the vital importance of the sector to economic prosperity, inclusion for women and youths, and sustained employment for the continent’s over 120 million unemployed youths and 70 percent working poor.

As global debates on tourism development progress, and conversations on tourism for inclusive growth championed by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation become localised in different regions of the world, industry professionals are introspectively looking at the gaps and opportunities that will guide investments and policy making.

In West Africa, the need for inclusive growth, intra-African collaboration, private and public sector interaction, as well as extensive research has been examined closely.

West Africa has unique socio-political and economic realities that impact on tourism development and require particular attention in data gathering and research which should drive investment.

The 2019 Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index (TTCI) lists these wide range of socio-political indicators: economic, industrial and environmental factors: business environment, safety & security, health & hygiene, ICT readiness, environmental sustainability, international openness, tourist service infrastructure, among others.

Yet, West Africa ranks lower than Eastern and Southern Africa in all indicators but for environmental sustainability and ICT readiness.

Read also: Omicron variant: Canada adds Nigeria to travel ban list

In this regard, it is critical to conduct multifaceted analysis and research: what must be done with insecurity, socio-political instability, waste management, preservation of natural resources that will contribute to tourism development in West Africa?

To know what must be done, it is key to know what has been done, what has worked, and what has not worked.

Insufficient data across these key areas are contributory to the low tourism contribution to GDP compared to its Eastern and Southern Africa neighbours whose GDP shares are more representative of the global average. The Africa Business magazine that Eastern and Southern Africa garnered 7.5 percent GDP share from tourism revenues while West Africa gained only 2.1 percent.

“West Africa is a critical region that connects the world to Africa. Its proximity to Europe, Asia and Americas makes it strategically placed in the continent,” Anita Mendiratta, special advisor to the UNWTO secretary general said, during the third edition of the West Africa Tourism Roundtable earlier in the year where she delivered the keynote address.

5th Edition of West Africa Tourism Roundtable

Conceptualised and hosted by Adun Okupe, the West Africa Tourism Roundtable creates a platform for knowledge sharing, innovation and networking for practitioners and professionals who are determined to lead change in the tourism industry in West Africa.

Adun Okupe
Adun Okupe – convener, West Africa Tourism Roundtable and faculty, Lagos Business School

With notable speakers from across the world, over 300 participants during the five hybrid-styled sessions held in 2021 discussed how to drive sustainable change in the region’s tourism industry, proffering solutions to issues ranging from health and safety to the AfCFTA and sustainability as well as domestic tourism and entrepreneurship.

“Tourism in West Africa has to be government-led, private-sector driven, and community based,” Kojo Bentum-Williams, UNWTO Senior Expert on Communications said during a roundtable session. The West Africa Roundtable closed out for the year with the launch of the 2021 West Africa Tourism Report.

“We are effectively providing a focused and thematic tourism development agenda for building strong domestic tourism economies, health, online and offline safety and security, sustainability thinking, and talent development in the tourism industry and the AfCFTA.

“Key themes that will enhance destination competitiveness and drive development,” Okupe who is also a faculty member at the Lagos Business School, teaching courses on Sustainability and Strategic Management said.

Promoting tourism through West Africa Tourism Report

The 2021 West Africa Tourism Report is a compilation of the extensive deliberations from five roundtable sessions with over 300 participants – tourism and hospitality experts as well as expert practitioners from related industries who came together in 2021 to address the region-specific constraints hindering tourism development in West Africa.

The report details tangible areas to work on, quick wins and how these areas can drive change.

Each roundtable session reiterated the need for data to guide tourism planning and development decisions. Investors need data, governments need data, new entrants into the industry need data, and even those working in the industry need to know themselves to be aware of what each party can bring to the table.

This is the next challenge Okupe is looking to embrace. “Advancing Tourism Research in Africa – ATRA – is a natural outcome from the conclusions at the roundtable sessions, though it has been in the works for over five years. Through the ATRA project, we will be exploring the opportunities identified in the industry, providing toolkits and playbooks for solving these.

“The ATRA project has started work by compiling the database of different organisations and professionals working on tourism research in Africa and on Africa. This will help people know where to get resources from.

“Our audience will be practitioners, researchers in academia and policy makers. We are starting in West Africa but will definitely expand our work to the whole of Africa. For now, we are identifying collaborators and discussing with relevant funding organisations and private investors,” Okupe said.

As the West Africa Tourism Roundtable moves to Gambia, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire and other countries in the region from 2022 in partnership with other organisations, ATRA will focus on providing the critical research and data required to drive investment and policy making.

Similar to the mandate of the Centre for Tourism Research in Africa and Prof Landry Signé’s work at the Brookings Institution, ATRA is expected to contribute to the body of work in tourism research with its unique practice-led and sector players driven approach to data collection and recommendations.

Tourism development in any nation or state requires a strong will on the part of the leaders to make it happen.

With ATRA providing research and data which will aid clarity and harmonization of roles and responsibilities for public and private sector operatives, all of these would go a very long way to facilitating sustainable tourism development on the continent.

As more tourism professionals step up to address the peculiar challenges facing the industry, it is expected that this will cascade to an increase in domestic travels, improvement in service quality, coordinated public narrative about the destination Nigeria, and significant contribution to the nation’s GDP.

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