President Paul Kagame said the high cost of air travel to Africa and within Africa remains a barrier to the growth of the tourism sector, which calls for the implementation of the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM). He was speaking at the official opening of World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) 2023, on November 2, which convened more tthan1,200 participants in the global tourism industry to recognize the sector’s growth across the continent in recent years and at the same time analyze its challenges. ALSO READ: President Suluhu, Burundian VP Bazombanza in Kigali for global tourism summit The three-day summit, which kicked off on November 1, is for the first time taking place in Africa, and it was hosted in Kigali, under the theme ‘Building Bridges to a Sustainable Future’, to discuss the resilience and sustainable growth, the growing impact of AI, and understanding new and emerging markets, as well as cover the key challenges and opportunities facing the sector. In his opening remarks, Kagame said that in the commitment to rebuild from the horrific past nearly 30 years ago, Rwanda identified tourism as a key driver of economic growth earlier on, and the results have not been disappointing. “Every year, we welcome so many visitors who come to Rwanda to enjoy the unique natural beauty, attend sporting events, or participate in gatherings like this. This is a privilege and a trust that we don’t take for granted,” he said. ALSO READ: What the world can learn from the resilience of Africa’s tourism industry He gave examples of conservation efforts to build a more sustainable future which have yielded in recognition of Nyungwe National Park as a world heritage site, adding that the country is also investing in the infrastructure and skills to host major sports events such as the Basketball Africa League. While the travel and tourism industry has recovered strongly globally, Kagame pointed out that the high cost of air travel to Africa and within Africa remains a barrier and the implementation of SAATM is an important priority. SAATM, commonly referred to as the unified air transport market aims at boosting the aviation industry on the continent by allowing free movement of airlines from one country to another. “We should not lose sight of our own continental market. Africans are the future of global tourism as our middle class continues to grow at a fast pace in the decades to come. We must work closely together with partners, like the WTTC, to continue developing Africa into a premium destination for global travel.” The Head of State signaled that Rwanda removed visa restrictions for citizens of every African country as well as many other countries, hence, inviting the delegates to visit different past of the country. ALSO READ: Kigali to host over 2000 participants in WTTC's Africa debut Co-organised by the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), the WTTC is the most influential annual summit on the travel and tourism calendar bringing together thousands of industry leaders, experts, and key government representatives to continue to align efforts to support the growth of the sector and move towards a safer, more resilient, inclusive and sustainable future. Julia Simpson, The President and CEO of WTTC, commended the efforts of the Rwandan government in building the tourism sector which is the main contributor of the economy and employs a significant number of people. These efforts, according to her, have enabled the country to rank among the top 20 countries with ease of doing business on the continent and across. Simpson added that this summit is an opportunity to lead debates with governments and point out the need for policy shifts to develop a sustainable industry, highlighting the priority of moving to electric vehicles along the supply chain as one approach to fighting climate change. Meanwhile, Francis Gatare, Chief Executive Officer of RDB, said that hosting the WTTC global summit in Rwanda and Africa marks an incredible milestone for the continent. It is also an opportunity for the world to see our country and experience the tremendous transformation that Rwanda has gone through and Africa’s dedication to sustainable tourism.” He welcomed the delegates at the next year’s gorilla naming ceremony, Kwita Izina which will mark 20 years of celebrating conservation efforts that have enabled the multiplication of mountain gorillas that were at the point of extension in the past. According to available data, tourism revenues amounted to $445 million in 2022 compared to $164 million in 2021, representing a 171.3 percent increase. In a yet-to-be-launched report on tourism in Africa, it is stated that travel and tourism could increase Africa’s GDP to $50 billion by 2033 and create six million more jobs, however, this will require employing the right approach and galvanized efforts of investment.