Madrid will become a world travel center from December 1 to 3, by hosting the 24th General Assembly of the World Tourism Organization (OMT). It will analyze the future of the sector, strategic for many countries, after the pandemic, with the impulse to strengthen it and make it more inclusive and sustainable. In addition to the official meetings, in the portfolio of this appointment are the revision of the UNWTO 2030 Agenda for Africa and the first International Code for the Protection of Tourists, designed to restore confidence in travel. Confidence necessary to promote a return to normality and recovery. It is not the first time in recent months that such a plan marks the union’s agenda. For developing regions it means a lot.
UNWTO African members met in Cape Verde in September to strengthen cooperation ties and advance sustainable growth plans after the disastrous year experienced in the sector by covid-19. The contribution of tourism to world GDP in 2019 was 9.17 trillion dollars. It feeds 270 million mouths in many places (data from 2020). But in Africa, especially in the most vulnerable states, its only mention is also related to one word: hope.
Hope to create jobs, grow, prosper, modernize. Prospects on the continent were positive. But 2020 ended them. Figures plummeted (see graph)
In the world as a whole, the movement of travelers It fell by as much as 97% (during the month of April 2020, it now remains at around 65%). In Africa, it fell 69%. And in Cape Verde, the beautiful host archipelago, almost entirely. In 2019, before the pandemic, it received 820,000 visitors, attracted by its landscapes, its beaches, its Portuguese-African Creole culture and / or its traditional music (morna). So far this year, they have only recovered a few thousand.
The 64th meeting of the UNWTO Regional Commission for Africa (CAF) had the representation of 23 countries and was held on the island of Sal, of the ten that make up this place. It was inaugurated by the President of Cape Verde, Jorge Carlos Fonseca, and next to him was the Minister of Tourism and Transportation, Carlos Jorge Duarte Santos, to reaffirm support for the sector and insist on its condition as the engine of recovery and development. The continent is immersed in a common project: to create and strengthen the Africa brand (Brand Africa) and this meeting served to deepen it after the initiative was launched in Namibia last June.
Weeks after the CAF and before his visit to the UNWTO Assembly in Madrid, Duarte appears on the other side of the computer screen ready to tell us in a portuñol It is very clear why Cape Verde (and all of Africa, by extension) needs visitors to grow and guarantee the progress of its citizens, and willing to “sell” well a country, his country, which he considers a “privileged destination” and unique. So with all the letters. And it is, because it is one of the smallest in the world (4,030 square kilometers) and has some very peculiar characteristics: with just over half a million inhabitants, it is located in a volcanic archipelago off the northwest coast of Africa and can boast of geography, history and culture characteristics, fusion between the Mediterranean and the African that is appreciated in its architecture, its gastronomy or its music, that crossroads between the Portuguese fado, the fad The Brazilian tango, the Rio de la Plata tango and the Angolan lament, which is an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO and which has its own name, that of the singer Cesaria Evora.
“Everything fell apart with the covid, we were closed from March to October 2020.” Now, he says, they must start planning and investing. “The tourism it means a lot to us, exactly 25% of GDP and generates one in five jobs. That is why since June 2021 we have been determined to show that we are a place prepared to receive others. There is already 35% of the population fully vaccinated and 70% with the first dose. We will be 75% complete by the end of the year, which will be a huge win for a such a small country ”. Air corridors opened this September for some States like Germany and in October they were expanded. Its objective is, he assures, “to guarantee the public health of its citizens, of visitors and to create the conditions so that travelers feel safe and can enjoy themselves.”
Objectives common to those that were addressed at the September meeting (and will be addressed in Madrid, for sure), and which are “those that stand in the way of the safe resumption of the sector throughout the continent”: it must be accelerated the implementation of vaccines, address the security problems that continue to affect the global perception of Africa, improve air connectivity between destinations and harmonize travel protocols as an effective means to boost regional tourism. UNWTO Secretary General Zurab Pololikashvili made it clear at the meeting: “The continent is united in its determination to harness the power of tourism to promote development and opportunities for all. And with targeted investment and coordination, it will finally be able to realize its unique potential. ”
Now Cape Verde has a plan. And many challenges in a sector that has grown since the 1990s based on the beach + sun formula: “So the country it was another, it was very poor, this industry was dominated by large groups … Many, of Spanish origin. Now we see that that served to generate wealth, but we have excessive concentration in some of the islands where 95% of the overnight stays are accumulated, little diversification, since it is mostly reduced to that, sun and beach, and the model all inclusive and we must decentralize it, take it to all the islands and make it grow in a sustainable way ”.
How to do it? “If you cannot compete for prices, you have to do it with your own and varied offer,” he says. “We are creating products based on our stability, on our historical and cultural wealth, our music … We can boast of rich landscapes, rural tourism, direct contact with the local population …”, he assures. “The very celebration of CAF in our territory is proof that we can host congresses and large events.”
Duarte also considers it a destination to be discovered by Spaniards (who only represent 2% of visitors when in 2015 there were many more), a place four and a half hours by plane from the Peninsula that allows you to discover an archipelago of 10 islands (those of Barlovento and those of Sotavento), with names as suggestive as Boa Vista, Maio, Santiago, Fogo, Sal, Brava, San Vicente …) that are, some, like a piece of desert in the middle of the ocean .
His program, he says, you have three legs and is designed for the next five years. In addition to diversification, it happens, secondly, by investing in tourism promotion, with the idea of distancing itself from that image of being a “secondary” or “poor relative” destination (compared to other louder ones or even Senegal, so close) and to claim as another new, fresh, unique. And third, invest in governance and in economic and social sustainability. Improve the situation of that 26% of the population that still lives today below the level of poverty in the archipelago; solve precariousness, ensure the good conditions of employees of hotels and tourist facilities … He also mentions the joint work with the Ministry of the Feminine Condition to create equal salary conditions in a sector where more than 50% are women .
“Sustainability must be social, economic and environmental. We do not want to create asymmetries in the islands, we want to reinforce the care of protected areas, where unique species of flora and fauna inhabit, we want a harmonious development that avoids those contrasts of hotels surrounded by shanty towns that exist in other places. We do not want under any circumstances to destroy what we have, because we would be left with nothing to offer ”.
“Tourism”, he continues, “has an important multiplier effect: for every euro invested many are received”. And it reviews sectors in which it impacts, in addition to traditional services: in agriculture, in creative industries, in agribusiness, in transportation … “We also aspire to be sustainable also in food, to achieve self-sufficiency. We need to broaden the focus ”. They are very aware, he assures, of the fragility of their ecosystems, their traditions and their culture: “We want to sell that differentiation, it is our greatest value and no, there is no danger of overcrowding.”
During the whole conversation, when he refers to travelers, he always talks about Europeans. Are there no African tourists in Cape Verde? We asked him. “We start to have them now. But in the air connections is the key. Connectivity is the weak point of Africa, we cannot solve it ”, he replies. They themselves have long aspired to become an air passenger distribution platform (as Senegal also wants to be, with the new airport in Dakar, its main competitor), the necessary crossing from Latin America and Brazil to Europe itself. And that would allow you to stop for a few days and enjoy the islands as they deserve. “That would be an interesting future experience,” smiles the minister.
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