Tourism can push Africa onto a new path – minister

Africa should push tourism if it wants to make good on predictions that the continent is on a new development path, South African Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane told delegates at the opening of the 15th Meetings Africa at Sandton Convention Centre on Tuesday.

Kubayi-Ngubane, who rang the bell to open the trading floor, told the professionals from the business travel industry across the continent that Africa has been touted as the “next frontier for growth and development”. 

The tourism sector “can help the continent continue its inevitable march towards sustainable growth,” she said. Such growth in a market of 1.2-billion people is “inevitable”.

The minister said that much had changed in the continent since the first Meetings Africa 15 years ago. “Although Africa showed great promise, it still faces challenges regarding implementing democracy, violent conflicts, and a huge infrastructure investment gap,” she said. 

Africa has changed, and continues to change for the better. “Today, Africa brims with promise. Africa is a wonderful continent of diverse people and vibrant cultures. With many African countries making remarkable economic strides in the past few years, the global meetings industry has come to regard the continent as a dynamic, sought-after destination,” she said. 

Africa is also making strides in building infrastructure, especially in information and communication technology, where it has trailed in the past, she said, quoting from the World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report 2019. “This is because unparalleled growth of African markets has been undergirded by increasing foreign direct investment in key areas such as energy, infrastructure and finance,” she said. 

This growth, which also happened in tourism infrastructure, was further supported and encouraged by the African Union.

Kubayi-Ngubane said tourism is high on the list of the South African government’s priorities, as it is a crucial sector. “As a country, we already have a vibrant tourism industry and both leisure tourism and the business events industry hold massive potential to play an even more meaningful role in the economic transformation of our country, and the upliftment of our people and the rest of the continent.” 

The government is also committed to helping the smaller players, and is forging partnerships with the private sector to enable new entrants to come in and contribute to the industry’s diversity and sustainability, she said. The focus is especially on small tourism enterprises that can create jobs, offer authentic experiences and empower communities. 

This is the minister’s first Meetings Africa event since her appointment in the middle of last year, and she chose to strike an informal tone. She also went on a walkabout on the trading floor in the ground floor ballroom of the Sandton Convention Centre, where there were 321 exhibitors from 20 African countries.

“I could already sense a buzz of excitement surrounding the many possibilities that Africa has to offer the international business travel industry,” she said. 

Kubayi-Ngubane extended a special welcome to the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is exhibiting at Meetings Africa for the first time.

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