By Yinka Obagun
Dan Eldon, the late English photojournalist once famously said “the journey is the destination”; and so is true of the African holiday experience.
African holidays are largely stereotyped by safaris, expeditions, and charity missions, and such stereotypes are rightly questioned as they only form part of a greater story. Stereotypes are why we regard the Irish as hospitable, Aussies as fun-loving, the French as stylish, and Italians as passionate. But none of these words could possibly constitute a comprehensive description of their identity. Similarly, the safaris, wildlife, and expeditions are only part of the African story, and just one of the many holiday experiences the continent offers. It should not typify tourists’ attractions.
The African culture is so rich that anyone who has not been, and believes the journey is restricted to these experiences does not do it justice. As Richard Mullin opined “the only man I envy is the man who has not yet been to Africa, for he has so much to look forward to.” The influence the media wields cannot be overlooked, as naturally, they contribute in shaping people’s views on certain issues – and only the curious will dig deeper.
Mainstream media contributes to the perception of Africa as a vision of pristine wilderness where people follow age-old traditions and live in thatched villages. Cue the wild animals. This has reduced a potentially lucrative market as a false image of African tourism has been exported to the wider society. The task ahead is exporting an image of a continent that is a tourist destination – a task very few Governments have succeeded at.
In 2011, the top 10 international tourism destinations did not feature any of the 54 African countries. None.
Objectively speaking, the crawling progress that has hindered the growth of tourism is also due to security concerns. Although the stereotype of travelling to the continent and being in harm’s way has been the message disseminated from media sources, several Governments have invested in, and worked hard at increasing the security in tourist cities. More destinations are considered safer today than they were a decade ago.
The leaders at the helm of affairs are more educated, enlightened, and exposed – and realise tourism is essential to the development of their states. Growing tourism allows individuals overcome cultural, geographical, and ethnic hurdles with ease. As the former Archbishop of Canterbury noted, “in the middle ages, people were tourists because of their religion, whereas now they are tourists because tourism is their religion.”
How can 54 Governments transform the image of their countries to ensure each is considered an attractive tourism destination and not a place solely for the construction of schools and hospitals? Or even more bizarre – because it looks good on a resume? I came across an advert recently; with its emblematic features, what resembled a promo for the Caribbean island turned out to be one for the Gambia.
At a glance, I read through the words desirably; “a sub-tropical climate, fascinating culture, magnificent wide sandy beaches, and some of the friendliest people on earth add up to one great holiday destination.”
With a distinct smile, the abridged version simply read “discover the smiling coast’. I was hooked by the ad’s simplicity and proud of its message. With similar proactive initiatives and unique marketing, African destinations are in good stead.
The continent has much to offer. For thrill seekers, Tanzania is right up there with Mount Kilimanjaro. From colonial rule to independence, all countries boast of a rich history; from Robben Island in South Africa, to the slave market in Badagry, Nigeria.
From the beaches in Morocco, to the textile industry in Lesotho, to the archipelago of 10 islands in Cape Verde. From the game reserves in Botswana, to the castles in Ghana – there is history on these shores.
Although its beginnings are still obscure, a great tourism movement is happening in Africa, with more governments investing heavily in transmitting this message.
The quality of Africa’s resource endowment for tourism is exceptional and most countries are only scratching the surface of the potential their countries possess. It should be considered a viable source of growth and for it to continue, tourism must be integrated into each country’s overall economic and social policy plans. The policy and regulatory framework must be created by governments to enable private investment.
National policies must conserve the country’s cultural and environmental heritage to preserve the resource base on which tourism is built. The industry has an obligation in communicating this message to its audience – that tourism in each country is anything but one-dimensional.
It must educate people on its history and heritage – one it is proud to have, and show them why their country is great. It must take them on a journey that leaves them wanting more, and in the process, creating a new stereotype.
In the words of Samuel Johnson “all travel has its advantages. If the passenger visits better countries, he may learn to improve his own. And if fortune carries him to worse, he may learn to enjoy it.”