More than 20 aviation and tourism ministers from African nations have agreed a new action plan that links air transport and tourism development throughout the continent.
As prosperity increases across the globe – notably in Asia – tourism is rapidly becoming one of the fastest growing sectors of the international economy and offers considerable potential benefits to Africa.
A few African states, such as Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and South Africa, have longstanding and substantial national tourist industries, while tourism in others, such as Cabo Verde, is much younger.
Air transport and tourism complemented each other and continued “to deliver increasing contributions to global socio-economic prosperity, with a combined contribution to world GDP today of close to 14%”, according to International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) president, Dr Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu.
He was speaking at an inaugural ministerial conference in Cabo Verde that brought together ICAO and the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).
Aliu noted, however: “In Africa today, the incredible economic potentials of air transport and tourism still remain largely untapped.”
In recent years, the continent accounted for only 5% of global tourist arrivals and 3% of global tourism spending, he said, even despite recent modest growth attributable to the revival of the tourism industry in northern Africa, and improvements to African air connectivity generally.
He pointed to several connected factors that were hindering progress, including capacity limitations at many African airports, a related lack of finance and investment for infrastructure development and modernisation, and a persistent lack of skilled education and training capacity.
He also noted that some countries still had poor regulations covering markets, taxes on aviation, and difficulties in visitors easily obtaining visas.
It is well known that some governments still regard civil aviation as an easy target through which to raise money; the resulting taxes and charges – for example, for providing airport services – make flying more expensive. So, for a short-term gain to their treasury, those countries are actually throttling the growth of aviation over the longer term.
Just days before the Cabo Verde conference, Aliu had warned an aviation workshop in Nigeria that better air connectivity in Africa and the important sustainable development it could bring required more investment in the continent’s aviation infrastructure.
Africa had the greatest potential for growth in aviation passenger traffic – 4.3% annually from now until 2035 – of all ICAO’s global regions, but this growth was in danger of not being realised, he said.
“The launch last year of the African Union’s single market demonstrated Africa’s unity and agreement… that aviation connectivity’s socio-economic benefits are real, sustainable and worthy of the attention and commitment of African governments,” he told the workshop.
“But rapidly expanding air traffic and enhanced air connectivity can only be sustained with continued investment and development for aviation infrastructure, capacity and technology, supported by a regulatory framework that is ICAO-compliant and, therefore, harmonised with other states and regions.”
Aliu added that ICAO played an important role in bringing together donors, investors and governments that needed funding for aviation infrastructure. In doing so, the organisation facilitated local capacity-building and the mobilising of resources under its ‘no country left behind’ initiative.
However, he said, finding this type of dependable, long-term funding was becoming more difficult, which posed problems for many states.
Bearing in mind these problems, Aliu encouraged delegates to focus on developing pragmatic solutions that would enhance air transport, increase air connectivity, and improve the investment climate. Such solutions included creating a dependable regulatory climate in all African countries and aligning air transport and associated national development priorities.
The ministers adopted an action plan on air transport and tourism development in Africa. This calls for linkages between air transport and tourism policies, as well as seeking innovative and sustainable solutions to encourage air connectivity.