On prospects of inter-African tourism

by Andy Kozlov

When I attended my first Zimbabwe International Trade Fair in Bulawayo (ZITF 2011), my expectations were high for the Asambeni Tourism Expo. And so were my colleague’s . Having gained vast experience while running a web site for restaurant booking and rating Eatout.co.zw, Veronica and Joseph Bunga decided to move into hospitality by establishing a one-stop online-accommodation booking for Zimbabwe: Zimlodges.

Veronica Bunga chats to an old-time partner from Cresta,Tendai Mazike, the marketing executive of the group, during the ZITF 2011.

We wanted to test the idea against the tourism sector guys at Zimbabwe’s major trade expo. What we encountered there, though, was a bunch of good old partners from Harare (for almost a year, the Bungas have been running  a lifestyle monthly for Zimbabwe’s capital Hello Harare!) and a group of local heavyweights, like the Tourism Authority, National Parks and major hotel groups. – As usual, I heard somebody mention the effects of Zimbabwe’s 2008 economic crisis to explain the scarcity and the absolute non-variety of exhibitors.

The overall figures for Africa, although on the rise, are not impressing either. With a growth of 6% of the tourism sector, the continent hosted 50 million of visitors in 2010 (the year of South Africa’s World Cup), a number that constitutes a mere 5% of the worldwide tourism flow of around 940 million.

Part of the problem in Africa is the exorbitant cost of air travel inside the continent. South African Airlines (SAA) and SA Express have overcome this difficulty to some extent by forming successful partnerships with airlines in other African countries, including the Democratic Republic of Congo.

SAA flies into several countries in West Africa, including Nigeria, Ghana and the Ivory Coast. But the majority of African governments continue to subsidise their national airlines and shut out competition.

So far, neither Comair (a partner of the British Airways (BA) in Southern Africa) nor 1Time (a South African low-cost) has entered partnerships although both have secured a few regional routes.

Comair’s franchise agreement with BA meant that, although it could enter into interline agreements to carry other airlines’ passengers in South Africa, it could not enter into partnerships enabling the partner to carry Comair passengers, unless the partner offered BA standards.

Rodney James, the managing director of 1Time, said that as a low-cost airline it was not easy to set up partnerships with full-service airlines. Despite Africa’s size and population, it accounts for only 2% of the world air transport industry. Annual passenger numbers were estimated at 40 million – only 1/8 of the world total, although there are about 300 registered airlines in the continent, directly employing about 500, 000 people.

Meanwhile, Africa constitutes a mere 1% of the world’s manufacturing and accounts for 4% of the planet’s electrification.

Local demand for air travel is low and most airlines are at least partly state-owned, with no competition.

Returning to Zimbabwe: look at the case of its national flag carrier Air Zimbabwe. I never flew this airline and take with skepticism the constant stream of criticism I hear about it, but I remember clearly how amazed me and my friends were on our visit to Victoria Falls in May 2010. We discovered that the Sprayview Hotel in the heart of the World Heritage Site-hosting town was barely accommodating anybody else but us. Even a group of Japanese tourists at Boma restaurant did not convince us of the opposite: they would go to the Zambian side to sleep, we were told.

In spite of the numerous challenges faced by Zimbabwe on its way of recovery, South Sudan, the world’s newest nation, has dispatched a delegation to Zimbabwe to explore areas of cooperation in the tourism sector.

The delegation hopes to lure Zimbabwean business people to invest in its tourism industry promising that their “investment would not be disturbed.”

South Sudan’s tourism sector is under reconstruction after 22 years of war and 10 years of peace negotiations.

The  12 member delegation  is from the Ministry of Wildlife Conservation and Tourism.

Head of delegation, Lieutenant General Alfred Omoli, who is also the advisor in the Ministry of Wildlife Conservation and Tourism, said the delegation wanted  to learn how Zimbabwe is developing and managing its tourism industry.

According to Omoli, South Sudan has prioritised the creation of investment opportunities in the hotel and wildlife sectors. He said most hotel infrastructure was destroyed by war.

A series of investment talks have been lined up with stakeholders including visits to major tourism attractions.

Zimbabwe is planning to establish diplomatic ties by setting up an embassy in Juba and the first step towards that cooperation was set by President Robert Mugabe’s participation during independence celebration early July.

Zimbabwe Tourism Authority’s chief executive officer Karikoga Kaseke said investing would be wise business move saying “the wildlife in that country is ten times richer than that of Zimbabwe.”

You can write to Andy Kozlov on a.kozlov@steppesinsync.com


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