Community-hosted experiences will be the next frontier for tourism in Africa following the disruption of Covid-19.
Speakers at the just concluded Africa Travel and Tourism summit in South Africa said local experiences will be the catalyst to usher in a new kind of travel – one that increases the value of community and rural tourism. This, they said, will help the industry emerge with new, actionable ideas after more than a year of inactivity.
The new type of travel has spawned the health-conscious tourist, millennials seeking authenticity, and the lowering of barriers for women and people of color through travel platforms.
Founder of Nairobi-based Sustainable Travel and Tourism Agenda, Judy Kepher-Gona said tourism thrives in places created by people who make the experience enjoyable.
“Travelers want to experience the food and the natural beauty of a place. But people travel to meet people. The core is the people of these communities, ”she told delegates in Johannesburg.
The two-day summit was themed “Waking up Africa” and was virtually linked to delegates from Durban, South Africa, and Lagos, Nigeria.
Kepher-Gona referred to the transformation of the Masai Mara National Reserve, which had no local Maasai guides in 2005 to almost all of its tour guides drawn from the local community. “We argued that it is their livelihood and that it should be given to them. We then changed the narrative as they would not only be guides, they would also be hosts. Today, 99% of Masai Mara guests are from the local community. They are not asking for handouts, they have asked to be given a chance, ”she said.
Safiyya Akoojee, director of law firm Thomson Wilks, said empowering communities means leaders must make changes beyond political agendas. “We have to look inside before we look outside. Local communities, down to the rural level, have doctors, nurses, carpenters and other professionals who can help establish tourism in their communities.
However, delegates said that for tourism in Africa to thrive, countries should relax borders and allow for the freer movement of goods and people.
“We have failed to create ease of access in Africa. Until we, as Africa, are aligned and have policies that integrate travel, we will fail. We see our own continent as a place where we shouldn’t spend time, ”said Tshifihwa Tshivhengwa, director of the Tourism Business Council of South Africa.
Sadly, Africa continues to rely on roads that were established during colonial times rather than building new infrastructure.
“We talk a lot, we dream a lot, but we don’t act. The tourist travels because she wants to have fun, enjoy different foods and landscapes. But the constraint is the infrastructure, ”said Ambassador of the Democratic Republic of Congo to South Africa, Bene M’Poko.