BUEA, CAMEROON — For 38 years, the Africa Travel Association (ATA) has worked to encourage travel to and within Africa with their signature World Congress event, “Cameroon, A Destination to Rediscover: Emerging Products and Niche Markets,” where journalists, travel industry experts, and a diverse array of country representatives take part in panels, gala dinners, country tours, and networking events to promote all things African.
With previous host countries, including Senegal, Zambia, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and South Africa, this year, the West African nation of Cameroon was chosen to host the four-day affair.
Featuring panel discussions on “What’s Happening in Business in Africa Right Now,”"Building the Capacity for Inclusive Tourism Growth in Africa,” and “Leveraging International Media to Change Global Perceptions and Increase African Tourism” — with NewsOne sitting on the panel — the ATA officially kicked off its conference on Thursday beginning with a mixture of traditional dances from the south and east regions, in particular. NewsOne attended the conference on location to explore why Africa as a whole, and Cameroon in particular, are increasingly becoming destinations of choice.
Featured panelists at the kick-off included ATA Executive Director Edward Bergman; Cameroon’s Minister of State and Tourism and Leisure Bellow Bouba Maigari; Uganda’s Minister of State Tourism, Wildlife, and Aniquities Agnes Egunya; Central African Republic’s Minister of Development Tourism and Arts Taib Yacoub; and South Africa Director of New Partnership for Africa’s Development Representative Estherine Lisinge Gotabon.
Offering a warm welcome while establishing the context for this year’s meeting, Bergman explained the importance of tourism in Africa, “We all know that perception is reality, and tourism is the most effective way to change perception.” According to the ATA, Cameroon, which has seen this event held three times previously, saw a 35 percent boost in tourism in 2012.
When asked why Cameroon should be a top destination for the country, Buea-born Gotabon said, “In the first place, Cameroon is very blessed in terms of natural resources. Just the touristic attractions are great. We have the Mountain. You drive 30, 45 minutes; you have Limbe [which is the location of] the Atlantic ocean. You have the K national park. You have the rich heritage, the tradition — there is just so much that we should explore.”
With other countries, such as Zambia, Ghana, and South Africa experiencing surging tourism levels, Gotabon explained why Cameroon is looking to make use of its national treasures as well as what potential impact it could make in her homeland, “The unemployment rate of the country is very high, which is along the same lines as most African countries where you have a lot of youth graduating from universities or technical institutions looking for jobs. And I think this is a sector that can provide jobs, because you don’t only have to look at public sector investment or jobs but you can have heavy private sector investment, and with that, the support you need for job creation for many people along the value chain of the tourism industry.
With its diverse geography, culture, and history, Cameroon hopes to draw the world to its shores. Consequently, Gotabon added, “Cameroon can be a huge destination given its central location and the fact that its a bilingual nation, English and French, it’s a plus. We have a rich cultural heritage; we have like 250 tribes in this country, all with something different that you would appreciate. Looking at the diversity. It is such a rich country. So in my view — all the elements are there to make it work. We need the policy that will help and grow the tourism industry.”
Additional upcoming events include a Young Professionals Program, a keynote address from Nigeria’s Managing Director/CEO of Transnational Hotels and Tourism Valentine Ozigbo; guest speaker CNN Hero Georges Bwelle; and African food festival AfroEats.