TANZANIA (eTN) - The First Pan African Conference on Sustainable Tourism Management in African National Parks was opened Monday this week in northern Tanzania's tourist city of Arusha, with commitments from African governments to develop responsible tourism.
UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Secretary General Dr. Taleb Rifai said in his opening speech that Africa needs concerted efforts to develop tourism through nature conservation and involvement of local communities in tourist areas.
He said Africa remains a growing and most attractive destination today, based on the rich natural resources available, mostly nature, that includes wildlife, which still attracts many tourists from other continents.
Addressing about 400 participants of the conference, Dr. Rifai told them that Information Technology (IT) and modern communication systems have made travel and human movement easier, thus, attracting many people to travel from one country to another country in the world.
Likewise, Dr. Rifai said local tourism would be an optional strategy for African countries to build their tourism industry base through locals.
âThe future of African tourism is bright and promising. Africa has shown a great development in tourist arrivals during the past few years despite economic problems which hit European countries,â the UNWTO chief said.
âTourism is today an agent of change. It promotes environmental awareness, changes the people's know-how, it promotes wildlife conservation, and creates economic and social benefits to the local communities,â Dr. Rifai added.
The tourism industry is the future of Africa's economy and, therefore, African governments should work on collaborative efforts in developing this sector, he told the delegates.
Tanzanian Vice President, Dr. Gharib Billal, said Tanzania had committed towards nature protection through establishment of national parks, game reserves, and marine parks; all supporting tourism development.
Through their presentations, delegates from various African countries elaborated case studies on the need for promotion and development of sustainable tourism with a focus to local community participation in wildlife and nature conservation.
Community-based tourism will, in the future, dominate traditional practices where tourists ordinarily ended their itineraries inside wildlife parks or beaches, far from the local communities.
Representative from Seychelles National Parks Authority, Sylvanna Antat, said the Indian Ocean archipelago had succeeded to build tourism through protection of marine resources, while engaging the best marketing strategies to attract tourists there.
She told the delegates that the Indian Ocean Island (Seychelles) had strived to protect marine environment and encourage responsible tourism through well-designed strategies involving the government, local communities, and tourist business stakeholders.
Participants will be discussing âChallenges and Opportunities on Sustainable Tourism Management in African National Parks and Protected Areasâ and will look at the balance between environmental and cultural protection and tourism development specifically on policy and management issues as well as regulatory framework in order to sustain a high-quality visitor experience.
Despite high potential for a sustainable tourism development, many of Africa's national parks and protected areas suffer from constraints and limitations concerning public policies, integrated planning, effective governance with the involvement of the private stakeholders, management and commercial skills, scientific expertise, infrastructure and transport, tourism product development, quality, consumer image, and safety.
Various tourism experts and conservationists both locally and internationally will discuss their experiences in the fields of tourism and conservation and make a resolution on the way forward.
According to UNWTO, nature-based tourism or eco-tourism is a large and growing global industry, partially dependent upon the attributes of the natural environment and biodiversity wildlife and scenery which represent one of Africa's strategic competitive advantages as a destination.
The Pan African Conference is targeting to encourage a professional approach to better position on âpark tourismâ as one of the core components of overall national park management in Africa and to acquire an overview of the current challenges in terms of the demand-and-supply chain.
Other issues to be discussed during this conference are the government policies and tourism master plans recognizing national parks as tourism destinations, âresponsible tourismâ approach, biodiversity management, market intelligence, segmentation, statistics, and reliable analysis.
Key speakers on Monday were Sylvanna Antat, Research Officer, Seychelles National Parks Authority, Seychelles; Allan Kijazi, Director General, Tanzania National Parks; Justus Muumba, Manager, Community Development, Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority, Tanzania; Mr. Mateus Mutemba, Gorongosa Park Warden, Mozambique; and Mr. Johnson Sipitiek, Program Manager, Conservation Development Program, African Conservation Center, Nairobi, Kenya.