A three day seminar for professionals and other stakeholders on developing sustainable tourism master plan was convened in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The intra-African trade remains an issue of concern not only to IGAD, but also to our leaders. It is for this reason that the whole of this year, the theme of the Assembly of the African Union has been on boosting intra-African trade. Similarly, Africa’s performance in the context of global trade remains marginal, at roughly three per cent.

This level of intra-African trade and global trade performance is regrettable, bearing in mind the important role that trade can play in addressing the development challenges facing our continent. In the context of intra-African trade, the Assembly this year came up with an Action Plan for the boosting of the Intra-African trade. The Action Plan identifies clusters that address specific challenges. One of the areas that the Action Plan hopes to address is in the services trade area. The initial focus will be on trade related services, but this should create a platform upon which other services trade within Africa could be built upon. This then brings in the issue of tourism development.

The global growth of the tourism industry has been impressive over the past decades. However, despite having great tourism potential and registering impressive growth rates over the past few years, at 3 per cent in terms of international tourist receipts and the same rate for arrivals, Africa’s global share of the tourism industry is somewhat insignificant. Intra-African tourism is even not an area that receives a lot of policy focus. To realize their tourism potential, African countries will have to do the following. First, they have to address the various challenges that impede tourism development. And second, they have to put in place measures and adopt appropriate strategies that will enhance their respective destination competitiveness.

The importance of tourism is already recognized as highlighted in the 2004 African Union and NEPAD Tourism Action Plan for Africa. The Action Plan by the African Union recognizes the industry’s potential for economic diversification, foreign exchange earnings, and government revenue generation and as vehicle for regional integration through trans-boundary activities. While recognizing the challenges that continent faces, the action plan takes cognizance of the fact that its effective implementation relies heavily on African countries creating an enabling and conducive environment for tourism development and that Regional Economic Communities have correspondingly important role of the sub-regions.

It is in recognition of the importance of tourism, and the direction charted by the African Union Tourism Action Plan that IGAD initiated work aimed at working with Member States to support them realise the potential of this important sector. The 15th meeting of the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts (ICE) of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) Sub-Regional Office for Eastern Africa (SRO-EA) that took place in Djibouti, from 21 to 24 February 2011, focused on tourism under the theme Towards a Sustainable Tourism Industry in Eastern Africa. Two reports were presented at this meeting: (i) A Study on the Challenges and Opportunities for Tourism Development in Eastern Africa (which was launched recently in Kenya) and (ii) Eco-tourism in the IGAD Region: An untapped potential with considerable socio-economic opportunities.

The two studies highlighted the challenges facing the sub-region and identified a number of opportunities. The studies further made a number of recommendations, in particular that a unified approach to tourism development under the umbrella of regional integration is urgently needed and that essential steps towards developing an IGAD Tourism Master Plan be given prominence among the member States. To strengthen this approach, a roadmap with detailed steps for the development and highest-level validation of a Sustainable Tourism Master Plan (STMP) for the IGAD region was approved.

It is for this reasons that Member states are assembled in Addis to deliberate and share their respective experiences towards the establishment of the IGAD Sustainable Tourism Master Plan.