When Ikechi Uko travels across Africa, no doubt the red carpets are rolled out, the appointment calendars of ministers and tourism industry leaders cleared, and teams assembled to listen to his advice and guidance, him being one of the foremost Pan-Africanists of the continental tourism scene.
It was no different during his flying visit to Rwanda over the past few days, where after being one of the gorilla baby-namers in last year’s Kwita Izina he came back this year to show solidarity from West Africa for one of East Africa’s most important, if not the most important, tourism and conservation event of the year.
With Kwita Izina now in the history books as Rwanda’s most successful conservation festival yet, Ikechi then rallied his troops after the entourage had returned from Kinigi and Musanze to Kigali.
Wrote Ikechi in his summary:
“After a 6-hour long meeting held at Serena Hotel Kigali after the Kwita Izina Gorilla naming ceremony, a new group of committed Africa based travel promoters formed an organization TeamAfrica to jointly promote destinations in Africa to Africans. It was observed that Africans promote themselves mostly to non-Africans while most Africans travel to non-African destinations.
“The result of this disconnect is that Africa, a continent of 1 billion people, receives about 53 million tourists annually while a country like France with less than 80 million people receives over 70 million tourists. This appalling situation has left many tourism practitioners pondering on what to do. At the sidelines of Indaba in South Africa, discussions were held among players about how to rescue Africa.
“Similar discussions were held at Sanganai in Zimbabwe with talks about branding Africa dominating the discussions. It came to a head at the UNWTO Branding Africa Conference held in Ghana recently. Many Government driven policies were agreed in Ghana to be supported by the African Union and the African Council of Tourism Ministers.
Considering the weak and very tenuous lifespan of tourism ministers in Africa it was decided at the meeting in Kigali to form an independent organization run by professional travel promoters in Africa already doing the business of promoting Africa to work together to promote Africa as a destination to Africans. The main drivers of TeamAfrica are Mr. Ikechi Uko, Lagos-based Publisher of atqnews.com.
Kampala-based Prof. Wolfgang Thome, Chief Correspondent for Africa of eTN, Denis Gathanju, Nairobi-based CEO of Safari Communications and Sandra Idossou, Brazzaville-based publisher of The Service Magazine. Between the four persons involved, they have visited many countries in Africa and attended many travel expos in Africa with contacts across all nations of Africa and language skills across all African Nations.
“TeamAfrica will engage more people across different nations in Africa to create a platform to jointly promote events and destinations in Africa and also to act as a defense for Africa and its tourism industry.
“The first project TeamAfrica is embarking will be a two-year search for the 21 wonders of Africa. The first shortlist of 200 African destinations will be released on the 1st of January 2016.There will be a reduction in the number of destinations every 6 months until the final result to be unveiled in Addis Ababa on the 9th of September 2018. September is a special month for Africa as it was the month of the birth of African Union.
“TeamAfrica will be using platforms like Akwaaba Travel Market in Nigeria, Indaba in South Africa, Sanganai in Zimbabwe, Magical Kenya in Kenya, WTM in London, ITB in Berlin, FITUR in Madrid to launch the shortlist. It is hoped that Africans in voting to choose the top 21 will develop an ownership of the identified destinations which will act as a bucket list for all Africans.
“After the meeting by TeamAfrica Carmen Nibigira, the Coordinator for the East Africa Tourism Platform and Rosemary Mugambi the Director of Sales and Marketing of Serena Hotels in East Africa immediately pledged support for TeamAfrica and the project.
“Members of TeamAfrica before dispersing for their various countries agreed to recruit competent players across Africa to enlarge the group. They are also to be brief relevant stakeholders across Africa including Tourism Boards, Council of Ministers, the AU, Retosa, ECOWAS, and others. TeamAfrica will be attending Magical Kenya Travel Expo, Mombasa in October and Akwaaba African Travel Market in Lagos in November where this agenda will be advanced further and additional points of interest and mutual concern discussed.”
One key issue everyone agreed on was the urgent need to revise visa regulations for African citizens of AU member states when they want to visit another AU member country. It was observed that foreign visitors often find it easier to obtain a visa than Africans, an entirely unacceptable situation and one of the greatest barriers to increasing cross-continental travel.
This will no doubt be a major agenda item and must be bounced up to the Council of Tourism Ministers if not the level of Heads of State when they meet for the next AU Summit.
Ikechi is now back in Lagos to concentrate on promoting AKWAABA to East, West, South, and North African countries and then use their presence in Nigeria to drum up additional support for the TeamAfrica concept.
Source: Prof. Wolfgang H. Thome, ETN Africa correspondent