How can we promote African Tourism to the world and regional


Presentation by Peter Byrne, Mafia Island, Zanzibar, Tanzania

At the beginning of July the Secretary-General of UNWTO launched a new initiative for tourism recovery in Africa:

‘The UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) member states from across Africa have highlighted priorities for tourism against the backdrop of COVID-19 and created the UNWTO Agenda for Africa – Tourism for Inclusive Growth.

This roadmap for African tourism is based on the responses to a survey sent out by the Regional Department for Africa.

“This feedback from our African member states will help us guide tourism through the challenging months ahead. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on tourism across the continent,” said UNWTO Secretary-General, Zurab Pololikashvili.

“However, UNWTO is committed to helping Africa grow back stronger and better and for tourism to emerging from this crisis as an important pillar of economies, jobs, and sustainability.”

A survey revealed five key areas of the UNWTO Agenda for Africa that member states would like to see prioritized to give them more support as they recover from the impact of COVID-19:

  • Unlocking growth through investment promotion and public-private partnerships;
  • Promoting innovation and technology;
  • Promoting travel facilitation, including enhanced connectivity and tourism visa policies;
  • Fostering resilience, including through promoting safety and security and crisis communications; and
  • Advocating for ‘Brand Africa’.

The survey answers showed that member states would like to see the part of the Agenda for Africa that focuses on fostering resilience, to be realigned to reflect the current situation to accelerate recovery.

The priorities of member states varied from different parts of Africa. In East Africa, members prioritized the promotion of better travel facilitation and unlocking tourism growth through investment and public-private partnerships.

Advocating for ‘Brand Africa’ emerged as the number-one priority for member states in Southern Africa and, in Central Africa, the focus was on strengthening tourism statistics systems.

Member states from across the continent would like to see UNWTO add a new section to the Agenda for Africa that focuses on promoting regional and domestic tourism.’

Rather than a brand (‘Brand Africa’) I would like for us in Africa to recognize that we should be offering a living, tangible ‘being’ and come together as


What is missing from the program, I believe, is the need for the ATB to become a DMO for Africa, not just coordinate activities intended to facilitate tourism itself. We have to go back as far as designing tourism and its marketing, highlighting and building on uniquely African characteristics. The COVID-19 has not led to a lost year in 2020 – there are emerging opportunities for Africa and trends that are already germinating, such as calls for regional approaches to crises like the pandemic, and new hubs for tourism growth in East Africa to serve a regional tourism industry.

However, one of the key issues emerging from the UNWTO program description, which focuses on what each country must do to attract tourists, is how vulnerable we are to the policies in place in our source markets for travel partners. We are now in a phase where it is not How can we? but Why can’t they ?

The question comes from the restrictions and constraints in our tourist markets to battle the pandemic and/or keep travelers at home. What more can we do for tourism recovery if we have low or no COVID, excellent SOP, testing available for visitors, require a COVID-free test for visitors, excellent private-public co-operation on managing visitors? We have built it and still, they do not or cannot come…..

The crisis of new spikes, specific geographies still with high COVID-19 infection rates and new outbreaks soon after re-opening takes place has led to muddled policies and incoherent rules, sudden changes in direction by some governments, airlines unable to predict rules and regulations that are ever-changing and difficult to interpret and greater angst, worry and fear in the traveling public about travel risks per se, not an infection.

The irony for us in Tanzania is to receive booking cancellations from people in countries with significant or even high COVID-19 infection levels due to these rules and NOT because they are worried about COVID here. They are concerned about the consistency and reliability of flights, no travel insurance cover, and quarantines on returning home.

And – as a result – I am sure we are now witnessing an increase in traveler fatigue, resignation, and finally, acceptance. They cannot go, they won’t take the risk of getting stuck as has happened to so many from the outset of the pandemic.


RIP to tourism unless we can do something about this.


What does the ATB say about its goals:

“Tourism is a catalyst for unity, peace, growth, prosperity, job creation for the people of Africa. OUR VISION:Where Africa becomes ONE tourism destination of choice in the World. Chairman: Cuthbert Ncube African Tourism BoardPretoria, South Africa (HQ)” (

The grasp of the COVID-19 virus has highlighted

  1. How little Africa is in front of the World as a key tourism region (just monitor the media traffic in our industry) and how easy it is to ignore us
  2. Africa is not a key tourism industry influencer (that’s why we are discussion what to do)
  3. “Africa” needs to BE much more of an identity, a persona, in the World, and not a collection of disparate marketing regions (most are too small for that and have miniscule budgets to achieve significant inroads in ‘making a name’ in the World market)
  4. The importance of a well-designed, pro-active, communicating, responsive DMO which is speaking and responding with speed and acuity on issues and ensures active participation of its membership (the ATB should be it, but anyone who has been in any association knows how difficult it is to get the ‘active participation’ activated)

This means gearing-up on the policy and planning front of course, because the diplomats must bring all countries together, but right now we need a marketing mechanism and messages that will be long-lived, that we can all subscribe to and can be carried around the World effectively. We need marketing more than policies and plans right now (this is why I was not in favour of many of the concepts of Project HOPE – they were esoteric and required heavy financing or were long-term) to expose our part of the World, to stake a claim and promote, promote, promote for the near-term if not for travel now.


From the outset we should be clear that we are speaking of two goals here, because they can be achieved with only one effort, one strategy, one simple message.

They are,

  1. “Africa of Everything”: for the World – promoting Africa as a continent, a geography worthy of travel for every person on the planet, by highlighting the enormous depth of culture, the diversity of peoples their clothing and foods and music and traditions, the nature and the physical beauty of the countries and the indelible intricacies of life in each; and
  2. “My Continent”: for Africans – discover your own continent, highlighting the enjoyment and advantages of travelling within Africa and working to accommodate and facilitate travellers from other African states with targeted marketing ideas (food, culture, art, music, festivals) and incentives as well as innovation and technology expositions


And the strategy is: Lifting and enjoying a much greater level of integration in our marketing.

We do not mean to get each country to abandon its uniqueness to create a single profile and only one all-encompassing message.


Using our new catch-word of “Twenty Points” I offer the following ideas for an Africa-wide collaboration on tourism profiling of our continent for the World:

  1. AFRICA FOR AMAZING: the NatGeo documentaries and Disney have done the promotion for us; we just have to knit and weave it together into a continental message that flows across the whole region with a kaleidoscope of travel opportunities from the deserts to the mountains and down to the seas of two great oceans. Imagine a presentation of our continent in a series of exposes that are themed and crafted to expose and show off the best of the best in each country!
  2. AFRICA FOR BUSINESS: this is where the World can find innovation and fresh off the African hotplate of its youth and the intense competition and special needs of African countries (low general spending power, dispersed populations, scattered infrastructure) that are driving the tech revolution… new tech hubs and innovation centres are evolving and making an impact, as well as architecture, design, fashion, music… the great opportunism that is part of African culture is the core energy.
  3. AFRICA FOR CULTURE: again the World knows our mojo here so why are we not doing better with it? Budgets needed for consolidated, co-ordinated promotion? An Africa-wide linking of the best music and culture festivals to ensure compatibility with dates? A systematic description and delineation of the uniqueness of music styles and cultures that are on display? Invest, build it and they will come.
  4.  AFRICA FOR DESIGN: each year sees Africa break more barriers and enter new markets in its claim to be recognised as a sun in the galaxy of design and art and skilled hand-worked creations across a wide range of decorative and functional forms. African designs are reproduced by OTHERS all over the World (notably the Dutch textile industry). Once again this is a matter of investigating, discovering, exposing and p resenting but it is also a call to governments to preserve and sustain these magnificent skills that are centuries old. These activities should be alive, not preserved in dusty museums. There is good reason to bring disparate regions and activities in this field into a major hub of design and craftsmanship for promotion and celebration.
  5. AFRICA FOR ENVIRONMENT: on this continent we must universally embrace the environment and the climate-friendly, sustainable ethos. It matches more closely what we offer, what our tourism industries are based upon than most other countries and we are not (yet) tainted by the negative visions emerging in other nations, with mechanised destruction of rain forests and fires razing whole forests at a hair-raining speed. If ever there was a time that Africa needed to


  1. AFRICA FOR FRIENDLINESS: this is one of the principal reasons I live in Africa… you can stop and talk and get involved in anything, anywhere… I have never seen nor met a “lonely” person in the Western sense of this word. Adversity is never accepted and the expression “laugh at the devil” may have originated on this continent. Africans have so little when compared to developed nations but we sure do make the most of it with a smile.


  1. AFRICA FOR GO NOW ! this may be our greatest opportunity, our moment to show and share our continent; our hospitality and our ‘old-fashioned’, personalized ways of doing things – design, are both contemporary and unique to Africa and tick all the boxes of space, open and airy, nature, fresh and non-processed foods…. We must not abandon our welcoming culture in the face of pressure for a “new normal”
  2. AFRICA FOR HOSPITALITY: being hospitable is ingrained in us, welcoming strangers and travelers with food and water without being requested, offering accommodation to those in need. It was always what African culture encompasses. It is not something we need to learn or teach but to remember because we’re taught it as children and apply it to tourism to offer to the World in our unique manners and customs from country to country in Africa.
  3. AFRICA FOR INSPIRATION: each day we see something we are awed by, whether it is magnificent dawn or sunset free of pollution, the opportunities for business through creativity, people who learn skills without formal training, others who make do with so little, and the many who have so little but always seem to support their families. We have so many problems in Africa to bring our people up and forward – education, health, welfare – but it never seems to be too daunting, never impossible because we stay inspired.
  4. AFRICA FOR JOY: is there another place in this troubled World where laughter is so ubiquitous ? I live in Africa for a sense of joy and humor and the way African people face adversity and overcome the odds with their culture of sharing and extended families.
  5. AFRICA FOR KALEIDOSCOPE: when I am not in Africa it is the natural kaleidoscope of color and activity and sights that bring me home. Africa is a permanent ongoing festival of light, color, activity, and challenge.
  6. AFRICA FOR LOVE: yes it is the ‘continent of love’ and perhaps there is no more fitting trademark to adopt. Africans are passionate about almost everything, we adopt things with love, whether it is music and celebration, football, our national teams, politics and our political heroes, our mamas and old folks and children, we do it to the full with love and passion. This is something to share with the World because it is a fantastic ‘full throttle’ emotion that is infectious.
  7. AFRICA FOR MAJESTIC: the continent is majestic with its physical beauty and diversity, its animals, its cultures and its true history, not that of invasion and colonization and modern politics, but of the history that has shaped the origins of the extraordinary variety of culture and traditions, the individual identities of our varied peoples and their values.
  8. AFRICA FOR NOWHERE LIKE IT: that’s for sure …. anyone who has been to Africa and has not been ‘bitten by the bug’ is not of this World. How many of us came for a while and many years later it is our home. And Africans leave for far lands but leave their hearts in Africa and never really become anything else.
  9. AFRICA FOR OPPORTUNITY: there is so much to do, so many things to develop into businesses, so big a market, so many people available to work…. Sure we have to upskill much more in Africa, but even that is a business opportunity. Take the last 25 years on this continent and look back over the progress and think how much of it was born in Africa, not imported as foreign investment and you get a small insight into what can be done.
  10. AFRICA FOR PEACE: while some countries in Africa have done well on this barometer, we do not have a good image on the World stage for our devotion to peace and stability and that is a role tourism can influence. Tourism is about peace because you cannot travel without it. The industry can assume a place at the high table of policy in influencing peace initiatives, simply by being another industry that can be added to a nation’s panoply of assets.
  11. AFRICA FOR QUALITY: in this space, we must learn much more I believe and it should be ‘quality in everything’ from concept and design to construction, furnishing and equipping, and service standards. We must adopt quality as a standard in two ways: without copying, with the unique signatures of individual cultures of each destination, and secondly with respect and understanding of what our guests will want in order to be comfortable and secure. We need to be ‘sympathetic to the market’ and understand and address the concerns and worries that are reflected in the seemingly endless stream of negative messages about Africa. Vene under COVID we are posted in the press as the continent that will suffer most and yet, so far, it is not so. Why do we let others control our press?
  12. AFRICA FOR RESILIENCE: if we do it right they will return soon’ if we follow the adage: ‘build it and they will come’. Africans have always had to be resilient… it is one of the enzymes of our being on this continent. We must prepare now for the near-term and the long-term through the new initiative of the African Tourism Board.
  13. AFRICA FOR STAY LONGER: tourism marketing has its greatest impact in terms of benefit-cost if visitors stay longer. By combining our attractions into ‘routes’ or ‘circuits’ marketed jointly we will ensure that this ration improves every year. We have seen this in East Africa emerging with multi-country travel now a popular mode of the holiday. Another result of this kind of pan-geographic region marketing is that we ensure that visitors will want to come back and there is no more powerful marketing tool than ‘word-of-mouth’.
  14. AFRICA FOR TOTAL IMMERSION & EXPERIENCE: we have everything any traveler might want to witness and enough for a lifetime of adventure, discovery, and experience. Imagine having the opportunity to develop marketing collateral for “AFRICA” – the only problem you would experience is “Where do I start ?”


The BIG issues is: how to put away national priorities and preferences and come together as a vast, extraordinary tourism destination.

In my opinion, it takes very little imagination. Why? Because you just have to see your neighbors’, your old “competitors”, assets as YOUR new advantages. How so? Because – if we sell as a continent – the assets, for example, the attractions of Kenya, are also those of Gabon and those of Gabon are also those of Ethiopia, and so on…. It is simply a matter of re-imagining these positive attributes in a new form, as part of a greater whole.

Can you imagine the advertising consultants if you suggest “Would you like to tender for a contract to market Africa ?” What would YOU give for that? I would do it for free because it is a gift… the World’s most amazing continent on show…. in all its glory and all its assets to be marketed!

So it is not even a question – to be part of something never seen or imagined before or go it alone in obscurity?