African countries must either liberalise air travel or perish
Friday, November 03, 2023
President Paul Kagame with other delegates at the official opening of World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) 2023. Photo by Village Urugwiro

President Paul Kagame on Thursday made a rallying call on African states to liberalise their airspace as a way to unlock the potential that the continent possesses in the tourism sector.

He was speaking at the official opening of World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) 2023, which is underway in Kigali, bringing together hundreds of participants from the global tourism industry to collectively discuss the sector’s growth in Africa, potential areas of cooperation and challenges.

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Transport, especially air travel can be a nightmare in Africa. Currently, some African countries can only be connected through Europe where, for a person to connect from one capital of an African country to another, they will have to first go to Europe then connect to their final destination.

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For Africa to fully harness emerging sectors like travel and tourism, there is need to urgently implement the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), which was assented too by the African Union with view to open up Africa’s skies and promote the value of aviation throughout the continent.

It is also envisaged to boost traffic, drive economies and create jobs. However, despite the potential that this initiative possesses, just 34 countries have signed up for it and it is yet to be fully operationalised.

For a continent that is acutely short on other critical infrastructure like roads and maritime transport, air travel is the only option left to ease intra-Africa movement.

Once its fully operationalized, SAATM can also open avenues for even better cooperation between different countries where the continent can now work out modalities to market Africa as a single tourist destination.

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The beauty of it is that each African country has its unique value proposition when it comes to tourism, so there is no competition but rather complementarity, which results into a better experience for the tourist. Therefore, there is no loser in this.

Finally, while it is important to liberalise airspace, with the still prevalent visa restrictions on the continent. In some cases, one is required to make a distance similar or even longer to country B to be able to get a visa to travel to country A. Such restrictions hurt us more that they benefit us.