Tourism Touted As a Priority Sector for East African Transformation

6 November 2019

Asmara — The travel and tourism industry is an important economic sector that puts the bread on the table for 7.2 million East Africans. According to Geoffrey Manyara, the ECA Economic Affairs Officer, capitalizing on tourism potential will significantly accelerate Economic Development in the region.

Manyara was speaking at the 23rd Meeting of the Intergovernmental Committee of Senior Officials and Experts. Over 250 experts and senior officials, from 14 East African countries, were drawn in to the meeting held in Asmara, Eritrea, including Government officials, business leaders, and representatives from international organizations, media and academia.

Speaking at the event, Hon. Hirut Kassaw, Minister for Culture and Tourism of Ethiopia, highlighted that reliable statistics are a pre-requisite for the impactful evidence-based policy required - and this is one of the challenges Eastern Africa faces on the tourism front. In line with global and regional agendas, she argued that the development of the tourism industry is one of the top priorities in enabling Eastern Africa to reach its development targets.

Whilst demonstrating that tourism is already an important economic sector across the region, Manyara explained the Eastern Africa region is still low-ranking in the Global Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index and many countries in the region suffer from poor tourism-enabling infrastructure, because of poor public investment. Critically, the number of African visitors, from Eastern Africa or elsewhere on the continent, is also considerably lower than what it could be.

Jacinta Nzioka, Chief Executive Officer of Kenya Convention Bureau, reiterated that the tourism sector continues to include only a narrow range of products that are often nature-based and generic:

"Such tourism 'products' do not encourage a vibrant tourism industry, because they do not give rise to multiple visits; nor do they give rise to a resilient sector, because they do not target African tourists," she said.

ECA argues that there is still a great deal of tourism potential that goes unharvested in East Africa. For example, the 63 million tourist arrivals to the African continent in 2017 represent just 4.7 percent of the estimated 1.3 billion global tourists that travelled that year.

To leverage the full potential of tourism, the African Union Commission recommends the implementation of a 'Continental Tourism Strategy'; what's more, a successful travel and tourism industry has been tipped off as an avenue for achieving the goals of the African Union Agenda 2063 and the East African Community's Vision 2050.

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