Recently the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) Regional Conference on Enhancing Brand Africa and Fostering Tourism Development was hosted in Accra, Ghana to discuss branding Africa.Velma Corcoran reports on the outcome.
I joined delegates from across the continent, who gathered in Accra, Ghana for three days in August 2015, to discuss how to improve Africa’s image. While not initially sure about the feasibility of developing a single brand for the continent, I ended up pleasantly surprised by what the speakers had to share.
When embarking on my trip to attend the conference, I was skeptical about creating one brand for an entire continent. Most brands deliver a single-minded message, but my belief was that Africa had to move away from a one-dimensional clichéd image.
My perspective changed when I heard some of the speakers. For instance, Dr Taleb Rifai, Secretary-General of the UNWTO, pointed out that ‘Brand Africa’ already exists – an image of a broken continent, devastated by war, disease and corruption. This single view means that an incident in one region taints the entire continent – as with the Ebola outbreak in a part of West Africa that resulted in international travelers shunning destinations across the entire continent.
The focus of the conference was to broaden the narrative and tell a more balanced and honest story about Africa. Delegates agreed that we must move beyond the negatives and showcase more positive angles for the continent.
The huge potential for growth in African tourism is clear from the fact that only 5% of all international travel during 2014 came to the continent. An expansion of international tourism would boost the sector’s contribution to GDP, so increasing the flow of foreign currency into Africa and generating growth in employment.
We looked at possible solutions – things such as facilitating more travel across the continent through limiting restrictions like VISAs, planning better flight schedules, and bringing down the cost of continental travel.
Conference delegates also acknowledged the need for all stakeholders to believe in the brand to make it strong. While the continent recognizes many top foreign brands, we don’t give similar recognition to the distinctive and unique brands built on the continent, such as Nollywood and Gollywood, tech innovation and fashion. As Africans we should believe in these brands and showcase them.
This type of approach would highlight the positives Africa can offer, without telling a lie about the realities of the continent. We can then start telling a more balanced story of negatives – and positives – and so find an authenticity beyond the clichés about our continent as a destination selling only beads and elephant tusks, but rather show it as a home to resilient people using innovation and creativity to overcome challenges.
Partnerships are a key tool to creating this stronger brand message. Tourism boards and governments should take control of the narrative rather than allow the story to happen without their input.
To influence the message positively, industry partners committed to provide mobile technology and social media tools for journalists and individuals to tell Africa’s stories – examples are providing Wi-Fi access and the CTT hash-tag #lovecapetown. Initiatives of this sort would promote the goal of Africa having hundreds of strong city brands and 54 equally strong country brands.
As for Capetonians, we often feel remote from the continent, but we’re very much a part of this story. While Cape Town doesn’t fit into the stereotype of an African city, we’re definitely part of the continent, and need to promote Africa as it’s in our best interests to be part of a brighter, stronger continent.
About the Author: Velma Corcoran is the Executive Marketing Manager of Cape Town Tourism (CTT). For more information visit www.capetown.travel.
Brand Africa™ is a pan-African inter-generational movement to create a positive image of Africa, celebrate our diversity, and inspire a great Africa. Brand Africa seeks to achieve its goals by promoting intergenerational partnerships and a catalytic environment for investment, tourism and active citizenship; celebrating and showcasing Africa’s capabilities and achievements; improving its image, and celebrating Africa’s collective and diverse cultures, values and identity.
For more information on Brand Africa™ visit www.brandafrica.net
This article was first published in the September 2015 Edition of Tourism Tattler.