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Why the gathering in Abidjan was more than mere tourism celebrations

Africa’s Year of Tourism took another fine turn with the celebration of the 41st World Tourism Day celebration in Abidjan, capital of Côte d’Ivoire.

Before the pandemic, Africa was one of the fastest-growing tourism regions in the world. In 2019, African destinations welcomed 70 million international arrivals, and tourism generated over US$28 billion for African economies.

The World Tourism Day is a global day of observance for tourism. It highlights the importance of tourism to almost every part of our societies and economies.

The African continent was hosting the international event for the third time after Senegal and Ghana hosted the Tourism showpiece in 1983 and 2009. The country host of these official World Tourism Organisation celebrations typically rotates among the four regions of the world, and Côte d’Ivoire had the honour to be announced as the host of this year’s event during the 23rd UNWTO General Assembly in St. Petersburg, Russia back in 2019.

Political support

Tourism as a key sector needs backing by the highest office of the land to ensure smooth operations and progress. The Government of Côte d’Ivoire’s unwavering support for the tourism industry has seen the West African country make the development of key infrastructures a reality. The country’s ambitious project Sublime Côte d’Ivoire is a testament to how it is committed to making tourism one of its major economic pillars. The special guest of honour at the event, H.E. Patrick Achi, Prime Minister of Côte d’Ivoire said “Cote d’Ivoire is proud to host a World Tourism Day like no other. It is important that we realign tourism, so the sector meets the hopes and expectations of people. Tourism is a key sector for Cote d’Ivoire’s growth and development. And the right path for Cote d’Ivoire is also the right path for all of Africa, using tourism as a locomotion to drive our economies forward and create jobs for all, especially for women and youth.”

Theme

This year’s celebration couldn’t have had a better theme: Tourism for Inclusive Development; a celebration of tourism’s power to bring everyone together in such extraordinary times. With UNWTO being the force leading the tourism sector recovery, it was the opportune time for the industry to highlight tourism’s incredible power to change lives. Opening the day, Zurab Pololikashvili, secretary-general, UNWTO, stressed the sector’s “commitment to inclusive growth so that tourism’s restart brings hope for millions worldwide and ensures that everyone who has a stake in tourism also has a say in its future”.

The pandemic as we have come to know exposed some of the industry’s complacencies and our hope is that the Abidjan gathering will help to build a robust and resilient sector that can withstand the test of time.

Read also: Ogbeni, doyen of travel and tourism journalism in Nigeria, turns 66

UNWTO and Africa: Through Crisis and Beyond

The UNWTO worked with its members over the last few months on the design of a “UNWTO Agenda for Africa 2030”. This is a roadmap to make tourism a key pillar of development throughout the continent. The agenda was amended to reflect the new realities caused by the pandemic and UNWTO is working with its Member States to help restart and grow their tourism sectors. This is possible through initiatives such as:

• Branding and marketing (the UNWTO Brand Africa Challenge), and partnerships with Facebook and Google.

• Innovation: African entrepreneurs and start-ups are actively involved in UNWTO Challenges

• Investments: UNWTO has hosted two Global Tourism Investment Forums since the start of the pandemic (in Cote d’Ivoire and Cabo Verde).

Major announcements

The World Tourism Organization’s (UNWTO) footprint in Africa continues to grow in leaps and bounds day by day. Zurab Pololikashvili, the recently re-elected secretary-general of UNWTO, has spent more time in the region than any of his predecessors had a chance to, and projects he initiated in the region have received overwhelming endorsement from the local leaders.

On the side-lines of the celebration, Didier Drogba, African football and Ivorian legend, inked an MOU with the UNWTO to help promote youth participation in tourism. The agreement recognizes that both sport and tourism can play a key role in advancing many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including through promoting cooperation and understanding, as well as through creating frameworks for inclusive economic growth.

The former Chelsea striker speaking to the media after the signing said that he will use “his public figure status to help promote tourism as a force for good”.

On the same day, Nigeria’s media giant Channels TV Group also signed an MOU with UNWTO to actively incorporate the theme of tourism for development within its editorial commitments which in turn will help to grow tourism’s footprint in Africa. John Momoh, the group’s CEO, promised the tourism world his media group’s unfettered support to the industry.

“This is like the icing on the cake for us. I love tourism, I like to travel a lot. Taking into account the fact that we have to reset the button for tourism around the world, that global tourism has taken a hit, you can be rest assured that you have a very good partner in Channels TV to continue rising from the pandemic that happened last year”, Momoh said.

Local participation

The host country led by its hard-working minister of Tourism and Leisure Siandou Fofoana and team, deserves recognition for hosting a great celebration. To host and canvas the support of the local community to participate in “Tourism’s New Year’s Celebration” was no mean achievement. It started back in August with the launch of a competition by the organizers to reward creativity, as it went in search of a mascot which would become the face of the event itself. The winning youngster M Kouyo Calixte walked home with two million CFA and an opportunity to help grow his talent” as promised by the Minister. This was followed by a 15-day caravan, which stopped in 32 towns, greeted by the jamboree of the locals to showcase the best of Côte d’Ivoire.

Reinforcing the importance of this year’s event, Minister Siandou Fofana said that World Tourism Day 2021 “showed the human face of tourism,” stressing the sector’s unique ability to lead recovery from the impacts of the pandemic, in Africa and worldwide.

Pomp & pageantry

Africa’s diverse culture will get even the introvert and reserved dancing on their feet. The well-choreographed opening ceremony dance set the tone for the pomp and pageantry that greeted participants and VIPs arriving at Sofitel’s iconic Palais de Congress.

Unprecedented ministerial participation

The 41st Tourism Day celebrations will go down in history as the event with a record participation of Tourism Ministers in person. Why is it important? Usually, countries worldwide hold their own national celebrations, so to have 13 Tourism Ministers travelling to Abidjan was very impressive. The Ministerial panel on “Tourism for Inclusive Growth” highlighted and reiterated the need for national governments to endorse regulations to support and make the “People-to-people sector “a major driver in their economies.

Way forward

Africa’s Year of Tourism will hopefully draw the attention of policy makers to work towards a unified industry to eliminate all bottlenecks that are hampering the growth of tourism in the region. As the new Chair for the UNWTO Commission for Africa (CAF), Siandou Fofana should help champion the pertinent needs of the continent.

Merci Beaucoup Abidjan for the wonderful warm hospitality extended to us all at Voyages Afriq.

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