The sustainability of nature based tourism in Africa is increasingly in competition with human activities and African countries will need to embrace technology and innovation if the continent is to reach its tourism potential, the Minister for Natural Resources has said.
Dr Vincent Biruta was on Monday addressing the Presidential Forum on Africa Tourism at New York University, US, on the sidelines of the ongoing 71st United Nations General Assembly.
Interventions in Africa’s tourism, he said, are taking place in sensitive and fragile ecosystems.
“We must innovate so that tourism, conservation and development go hand in hand. Technology and entrepreneurship play crucial roles in this process,” Biruta said.
He added, “For tourism and conservation to be successful, we must innovate and foster this kind of local entrepreneurship so that community ownership, and direct benefits for local residents are a core component of all tourism ventures.”
Biruta underlined a number of projects that the government has introduced to foster conservation and tourism.
They include a national revenue sharing scheme, where 5 per cent of all tourism revenue go to the communities surrounding national parks through investing it in local priority projects, such as schools and health centres. To date, 480 projects have been set up across the country, contributing to the welfare of communities surrounding national parks, he said.
The minister said the impact that technology can have on helping to diversify tourism experience offering “is essential because Africa cannot continue to rely so heavily on natural resource based tourism. We need to diversify. This includes cultural and historical tourism as well as religious and community based tourism.”
The online platform, Vayando, he added, connects international travellers with local entrepreneurs for unique experiences – from pottery making and boxing to traditional fishing and basket weaving.
These entrepreneurs receive 75 per cent of the total amount of the experience, Biruta noted.
This for-profit social enterprise, Biruta says, is using the power of technology to help individuals in remote areas reach new clientele.
“As governments, we must create the doing business environment that fosters this kind of innovation through technology,” Biruta told participants.
The government is working with thousands of community members living around Nyungwe National Park to promote entrepreneurship and to establish businesses and cooperatives that improve lives and protect the park.
‘‘There are 15 bee-keeping cooperatives made up of around 500 members who have established profitable businesses selling honey; more than 170 former poachers and illegal resource collectors who used to exploit the park through hunting, logging and mining have now joined hands to create farming cooperatives that provide fresh produce to hotels and local restaurants – taking advantage of the tourism value chain, among other benefits.’’
“The economic and ecological imperative to protect our natural heritage is clear…grassroots approach to managing the conservation needs of tourist sites because the communities surrounding our parks and lakes determine their health and have the most to gain from thriving natural resources,” said the minister.
Erastus Mwencha, the Vice Chairperson of the African Union Commission, noted that Africa is home to about 40 per cent of global biodiversity.
“We must value and protect it. Technology is allowing tourists to have more enjoyable experiences at national parks across Africa. Rwanda has taken this impressive step and made it possible to apply for a visa online. When you visit Rwanda, you see how well organised it is and mountain gorillas are a must see,” Mwencha said.
Rwanda seeks to grow tourism revenues by 25 percent every year, and Biruta said this ambitious target “can only be reached if we harness the power of technology, innovate in how we offer experiences and foster local entrepreneurship in and around our tourism sites.”
The minister also welcomed delegates to the 41st World Tourism Conference to be held in Kigali in November.
Francis Gatare, the Chief Executive Officer of Rwandan Development Board (RDB), echoed Biruta’s comments saying, “We are incredibly honoured to host the World Tourism Conference in Kigali in November. We welcome you to Rwanda.”
Gatare also reminded all African passport holders that they can receive their visa on arrival in Kigali. All World Tourism Conference guests could apply for their visa online.