NATURAL SWAY: A herd of elephants crossing the road near Shingwedzi Camp in the Kruger National Park.Picture: Thobile Mathonsi
The powerful stories of Africa - a continent that has given so much to the world - will never cease to amaze our visitors.

A record 62million people visited Africa in 2017, an 8% year-on-year growth.

To varying degrees, all African countries have the potential for exponential growth, given that arrivals to the continent represent only 5% of global tourists.

Travel and tourism are the fastest-growing sectors in the world, out-performing other sectors of the global economy. And in Africa, examples abound of diverse, world-class, accredited attractions supported by transport, services and communications infrastructure that compete with the best on offer elsewhere in the world.

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In Africa, we know how to welcome visitors with warmth and with our own unique flair, and we know how to host them professionally in our own way. Storytelling is part of who we are. Stories of courage and resilience abound.

We have experiences to offer of sacred sites, natural wonders, beautiful landscapes, spectacular mountains, wide open deserts and exquisite coastlines; of heritage and culture; of music and dance and astonishing artistic creativity.

Visitors to Africa experience one of the most profound stories the world has witnessed: how the birthplace of civilisation is catapulting itself into the future.

Stories of ancient African civilisations, such as Great Zimbabwe and Mapungubwe, predate the story of Gorée Island in Senegal which is, perhaps, one of our continent’s most symbolic sites. Mozambique’s Ibo Island and the Slave Market in Stonetown, Zanzibar, portray the triumph of the human spirit, serving to renew our commitment to never allow the atrocities of history to be repeated. Gorée Island and the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela in Ethiopia were the first two sites inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1978. Our continent now has 129 World Heritage Sites.

But what arguably sets us apart from the rest of the world is our abundant wildlife. In Tanzania, the Ngorongoro Crater Nature Reserve has the largest concentration of wild animals in the world. In the Serengeti, tourists can witness the most spectacular migration of animals on the planet. In the Mount Kenya National Park, home to Africa’s second-highest mountain, you can touch the sky and experience the migratory route of African elephants.

The Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda is one of the last remaining homes of the mountain gorilla. These are animals you will see nowhere else in the world.

And we are, of course, also proud of our own Kruger National Park, and the many other national parks we have in our country.

Tourism already contributes about 8% to Africa’s GDP and employs 6.5% of the workforce. Imagine the impact it will have on growth, jobs and livelihoods if, or rather when, we double and quadruple that!

We can increase, exponentially, the value that tourism brings by collaborating to make tourism work for everyone. We must enhance and expand our attractions; we need constant training to professionalise our services, and we need to market our attractions in the most effective way. We need to work together to ensure ease of travel. This in turn creates the right climate and opportunities for investment which will lead to greater growth.

The Tourism Investment Seminar this year will help us to assess the appetite for emerging opportunities. The African Ministers’ Session, hosted in South Africa for the past four years, has established itself as a platform for policymakers to discuss emerging trends, opportunities and challenges facing our tourism sector and, most critically, the interventions required to enhance its performance.

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This year we focused on how integrating regional tourism can be used for economic development. We explored the role of governments in creating a conducive environment for regional tourism integration, and the role of the private sector and investors in developing regional tourism products and promoting growth.

The countries on our continent are intertwined and our complementary, rather than competitive, interaction will lead to a fairer share of the economic benefits of tourism for Africa.

The modern traveller is looking for a distinctive and authentic experience. Travel in Africa offers exactly that: an unforgettable experience that leaves you with unique stories to tell. Our enduring tourism sites and ancient cultural artefacts provide many compelling reasons to visit. It’s a package unmatched anywhere in the world.

Tourism growth and sharing the benefits of tourism contribute to replacing poverty and despair with prosperity and hope. South Africa: we welcomed more than 10million international visitors last year; the forecast for 2018 is very positive.

This year we have 135 smaller enterprises from all nine provinces at the Africa Tourism Indaba, 50% more than last year. We call them our “hidden gems”. These small, up-and-coming businesses add to the diversity of our tourism offering, and they are the rising stars of tomorrow. We are committed to supporting this critical sector of our economy.

President Cyril Ramaphosa recently acknowledged tourism as a significant driver of our economy. We are more motivated than ever to continue building and growing our tourism sector inclusively, and to be its best ambassadors.

The SA Tourism campaign, in celebration of the Nelson Mandela Centenary, identifies 100 experiences, attractions and destinations around South Africa that have strong historical and social ties to Madiba’s life. Tourists can experience the emotion and relevance of each location through audio, text and image galleries.

The two well-known sites associated with our first democratically elected president are Robben Island and Vilakazi Street in Soweto. The life story of this extraordinary man is laid out for all to experience at many other sites.

Let’s work together to replace the sometimes-negative narrative of Africa with the real story of so many nations on the move, of people innovating and moving confidently into the future. Let’s ensure tourism makes a positive and meaningful contribution to the lives of all the people of Africa.

* This is an edited version of the welcome address by Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom at the opening of the Africa Tourism Indaba in Durban this week.

* The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

Cape Argus