To better harness the potential of tourism to contribute to inclusive growth, as well as to structural transformation and achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, African countries had better adopted policies that strengthen intersectoral linkages, boost intraregional tourism and promote peace, experts said yesterday.
The broader view is that tourism on the continent is important and continues to grow but it could do much more, and faster, if properly harnessed.
The experts were speaking in Kigali during a policy dialogue organised by the Office for Eastern Africa of UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) on the new UNCTAD Economic Development in Africa Report 2017, Tourism for Transformative and Inclusive Growth.
“Tourism is a labour-intensive sector with low entry barriers and a strong absorptive capacity for job creation for both skilled and unskilled workers,” said Andrew Mold, the in-charge sub-regional office for Eastern Africa, UNECA.
The sector is not only a job creator, he added, noting that beyond generating economic benefits and boosting productive capacities, tourism has the potential to foster inclusion by reducing poverty and inequalities among vulnerable groups such as the poor, youth and women.
Tourism is a sector that can impact poverty through wage employment and local sourcing of labour and material inputs to the sector, he said.
“In countries where the tourism sector is dominant, the vulnerable employment rate is lower. Hence expanding the tourism sector could assist the most vulnerable workers in Africa, and contribute to more decent work opportunities,” Mold said.
Vulnerable employment, it is noted, includes own-account workers and contributing family workers.
“Tourism is a critical source of employment for youth. On a global level, 50 per cent of the tourism labour force is aged 25 or younger. It, thus, offers an opportunity to harness the emerging demographic dividend,” he added.
Mold stressed that tourism is a sector where African women can thrive.
In Africa, more than 30 percent of tourism businesses are run by women, he said.
“This is a much higher share than in most sectors. And 36 per cent of its tourism ministers are women; this is the highest share in the world.”
Four policy recommendations
Roy Davis Junior, UNCTAD’s officer in charge of Africa and special programmes, listed four key policies for harnessing the potential of tourism for transformative and inclusive growth.
These are: strengthening inter-sectoral linkages to foster structural transformation through tourism; tapping the potential of intra-African tourism; promoting the capacity of tourism to foster inclusiveness; and using the mutual beneficial relationship between tourism and peace.
On strengthening inter-sectoral linkages, he said that demand by the tourism sector for local goods and services from other productive sectors can help to ensure the latter’s integration into the tourism value chain.
“This creates local employment and business opportunities, and generates multiplier effects in these sectors,” Davis said.
“Developing strong intersectoral linkages is thus crucial to ensuring a greater capture of tourist expenditures by local economy, a key determinant in facilitating the transfer of economic benefits from the sector to local communities.”
Explaining the linkage with the agriculture sector, which is the mainstay of many African economies, he noted that the sector accounts for 14 per cent of the continent’s GDP and 60 per cent of its employment.
“As the tourism sector consumes a wide variety of inputs from agriculture, including fresh produce, processed agricultural products and flowers, and as food and beverages account for one third of tourist expenditure, there is potential to develop viable agriculture–tourism linkages that can raise demand for products and services, and contribute to employment creation and business opportunities,” he said.
Kenn Munyeki, the general manager of Ubumwe Grande Hotel, said much has been done in the past but a lot more needs to be done in terms of improving the skill set in the tourism sector.
“The emergence of new hospitality universities sends a very good message. However, I think there is still a lot of effort that needs to be done in terms of government support onto skills building. There needs to be more specific skills capacity building and not generally picking people and training them on basic skills and releasing them onto the industry,” Munyeki said.
The United Nations designated 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.
Tourism in Africa is a flourishing industry that supports more than 21 million people with jobs.
The First Ten-Year Implementation Plan of the African Union’s Agenda 2063 aims at doubling the contribution of tourism to the continent’s GDP. To meet this target, it is noted, tourism needs to grow at a faster and stronger pace.