The need to improve the synergy between aviation and tourism gets stronger attention as Africa pursues its long-term development objectives. Mr. Alain St. Ange, former Minister of Tourism, Civil Aviation, Ports and Marine of the Seychelles, in this exclusive interview with Aviation & Allied Business Journal offers useful ideas on how aviation in Africa can leverage on tourism traffic to boost load factor add to profitability.
Q: Can you give an overview of where you think tourism has come to in Africa and the Seychelles at the moment from the last 5 years?
A: Tourism has progressed in Africa. We were, for a couple of years, having 5% of the world’s travelers; but this year, it’s on 6%. Is it enough? No, it is quite clear. We need Africans to realize that Africa has 54 States and the 54 States must work as one. We must look at Africa as one destination people come to. We must try and encourage people when they are in Africa to visit two or three countries. So the work to bring them into our part of the world is then benefiting two or three different States.
In Seychelles, we did claim it. Africa must claim it back tourism by involving the people. When the people are involved, they start benefiting directly from the industry and the money stays in the country. It will be one way to eradicate poverty because tourism puts money directly in the pocket of the people.
Q: Some see visa issuance as a revenue source, some see it as a disturbance or disconnect to the normal flow of tourism and aviation activities. How do we resolve the visa fees and the cost on passengers without cutting both sides?
A: I think most government today charge for visas for economical reason. The second is to control the influx of people into the country. Both are disturbances to where Africa is going. If we want Africa to be the mouthpiece for Africa, we must get to know each other, we must get to visit each other, and we must get to work with one another. But you can’t do that if I am penalized to come and see you. You are not my friends anymore; I’m more like an alien.
I really believe Africa has all the unique selling points for it to have a successful tourism industry. For us to do that, we need to find the Water Falls of Zimbabwe, to the nature reserves wildlife of Kenya, to the fishing or the ruins of Ghana, to the pyramid in Egypt, everything together to help people criss-cross the continent. This will help the movement of people, give buoyancy and critical mass for airlines to operate and then grow the tourism industry.
Q: Most of these tourism destinations and sites are still undeveloped. How do we develop these tourism sites to attract tourists?
A: We need tourism to increase its dimension of importance. I think Africa must have a working committee at AU to put together the key USPs of Africa to showcase to the world.
Q: The needed synergy between tourism and air transport has been spoken about for decades, but there seems to be no much traction. How do they move forward?
A: Some countries have taken it onboard. I was the Minister of Tourism and Culture of Seychelles initially, and then after a discussion with the President, we changed it to the Ministry of Tourism, Civil Aviation, Ports & Marine. So we took in all points of entry and everything that makes tourism work. That’s the base. Tourism needs civil aviation; and civil aviation doesn’t exist without tourism. We need to have one policy and government must have the will to say we want the tourism industry to work.
Q: Most Africans are living below the poverty line and cannot travel for leisure. How do we empower Africans who can become a huge part of intra-Africa tourism traffic?
A: When we have a level of poverty and then we are promoting tourism, it doesn’t work together. You can no longer put a 5 star or 6 star resort in the middle of a slum; people will open their windows and see people sleeping on the road. This is detrimental to tourism and it gives a bad taste. We have to make our people share in the benefits of the country.
Q: So what’s your outlook in the next five, ten years for tourism and aviation in Africa?
A: I think, sadly, some of the 23 airlines will disappear. But there is place for good airlines, that is quite clear. We have to be humble to say we have a everything. But by working together, we will grow this cake that makes Africa.