ZURAB POLOLIKASHVILI : Unlocking Africa’s tourism potential

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Zurab Pololikashvili, UNWTO Secretary General. /COURTESY PHOTO

An open letter from Zurab Pololikashvili, herein, he shares insights into the UNWTO’s Agenda for Africa – Roadmap to Inclusive Growth that serves as a blueprint and a strategic framework to help unlock the continent’s tourism potential.

Dear esteemed readers,

I would like to sincerely congratulate everyone of you for your commitment in mainstreaming sustainable tourism in your national development agendas.

From the outset of my mandate at the helm of the organization , my main priorities have been to make tourism smarter through innovation and digital transformation, to grow our competitive edge through investments and entrepreneurship, to create more and better jobs, to build resilience and facilitate travel as well as to protect our tangible and intangible heritage.

As the majority of you knows, the organization through the Regional Department for Africa initiated in early 2018 a consultative process which concluded with the approval and presentation of the special UNWTO Agenda for Africa – Roadmap to inclusive growth. This roadmap now serves as a blueprint and a strategic framework to help unlock the tourism potential towards inclusive development.

The agenda, which is aligned with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), fully reflects the seven aspirations of the Agenda 2063 of the African Union (AU) aimed at driving a socio-economic transformation of the continent through sustainable tourism. Our close collaboration with the African Union has strengthened over the years through the participation of institutional meetings such as our regional commission meetings, the AU Sub-Committee on Tourism and other tourism-related projects undertaken in the region.

I would like to once again express my earnest appreciation to all who joined us in celebrating the 10th anniversary of INVESTOUR in early January during FITUR. The 10th anniversary marked a key milestone for the business and investment networking platform that brings together public and private sector stakeholders to discuss the investment climate and opportunities in the continent. During this edition, I had the honour and profound pleasure to present a recognition award to a Rwandan entrepreneur, Mr. Greg Bakunzi for his commitment to sustainable tourism growth in Africa. In addition to this, I was pleased to introduce the 1st edition of the Tourism Tech Adventure to promote African Tourism innovation, by bringing five startups from the region to present and pitch their ideas in contributing towards sustainable development in Africa.

During the month of February, we greatly contributed to the organization of the first edition of the Caravan of the African Charter on Sustainable and Responsible tourism which was held in Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo. The African Charter on Sustainable and Responsible tourism, is an initiative of the Kingdom of Morocco launched in the margins of the 2016 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP 22 and has been signed by 26 African countries. This Caravan, which I truly encourage other member states to adopt and implement, gave me the the opportunity to partake in the high-level meetings led by Her Excellency Mrs. Arlette Soudan-Nonault, Minister of Tourism and Environment under the patronage of His Excellency President Denis Sassou Nguesso.

On the occasion of the 63rd independence of Tunisia and the inauguration of the 36th Craft Creation Fair, I was officially invited to Tunisia and met with the Head of State, H.E. Mr. Beji Caid Essebsi as well as with the Head of Government, H.E. Mr. Youssef Chahed to discuss the role of tourism in Tunisia’s economy. The visit included several high level discussions with Ministers of Tourism, Transport, Education and Foreign Affairs on the implementation of the MoU signed earlier in January.

At the end of March, we joined forces with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the Government of Cabo Verde to host the First Ministerial Conference on Air Transport and Tourism in Africa, which was held in Sal Island, Cabo Verde. To this effect, I would sincerely like to reiterate my thanks to the Government of Cabo Verde for the opportunity given to our members to discuss on how to further develop the symbiotic relationship between the tourism and air transport sectors. During this event, we launched the initial results of the UNWTO Visa Openness Report 2019 for Africa which include the analysis of visa policies and progress made in visa facilitation over the past 10 years.

Building capacities and training is central to our priorities. As a result, we have recently been welcoming delegates from Angola and the Gambia for capacity training sessions at our headquarters in Madrid, Spain. Officials from the Ministry of Tourism of Angola benefited from training on policy issues and the delegates from the Gambia, representing officials from the Ministry of Tourism and Culture and the Destination Managers from the Gambia Tourism Board were given the chance to gain insights and guidance into multiple thematic within the worldwide tourism industry.

As we celebrate the achievements of the continent and the creation of the African Union during Africa Day, let us recognize the potential of Africa´s youth and appreciate the major human capital and demographic dividend that needs to be harnessed through concrete actions such as innovation and digitalization through start-ups, investment strategies and entrepreneurship, education and skills development.

As the great African leader Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. The newly rebranded UNWTO Academy will offer a wide range of online technical and leadership trainings and I invite all member states of Africa to take advantage of it in their effort to strengthen human capital.

In conclusion, I would like to assure our members of my commitment together with my team to continue to deliver on the priority areas of the organization which are also reflected in the UNWTO Agenda for Africa – Roadmap for Inclusive Growth.

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Zurab Pololikashvili, is the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) Secretary-General

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