The Africa Travel Association, the world’s leading travel industry trade association promoting tourism to Africa, held its 37th Annual Congress in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, May 18-22, 2012.
More than 500 delegates from government, business, and the non-profit sectors gathered at ATA’s hallmark event in Africa.
The theme, “Africa Tourism: Partnering for the Future,” focused on how tourism, with growth rates in emerging markets outperforming more established destinations, is one of the most promising industries on the African continent for development. South African Airways served as Presenting Sponsor and Official Congress Carrier, and Arik Air served as Official Media Carrier.
“Our 37th Congress has been a real success with significant outcomes that will have a positive impact on the tourism industry in Zimbabwe and across Africa,” said Edward Bergman, ATA Executive Director, “Now more than ever, the tourism industry has a greater ability to affect lives and contribute to positive growth and development, and ATA is pleased to be at the heart of this process.”
Delegates included five tourism ministers from Central African Republic, Ghana, Namibia, Uganda, and Zimbabwe, along with government representatives from Angola, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Togo, and Zambia, and hundreds of participants from around the world.
The Congress was hosted by the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) under the auspices of the Honorable Minister of Tourism and Hospitality Industry, Walter Mzembi. ATA government members elected Minister Mzembi as the new President of the association at the ATA board meeting on the final day of the congress.
ZIMBABWE IS OPEN FOR BUSINESS
On the first day of the congress, Ambassador of the USA to Zimbabwe, Charles A. Ray, conveyed that “Zimbabwe is open for business.” He said that US business representatives were coming to Zimbabwe because the economy was growing, and trade and investment links between the two countries were improving.
Speaking about the importance of building better cooperation and understanding between the USA and Zimbabwe, the Ambassador said, “Zimbabwe, even with its political uncertainty, represents a potentially huge market for Americans… it has the highest literacy rate in sub-Saharan Africa, and a population that when opportunities are available, they’re very hard working and very organized and get things done.”
In an interview with one of the congress media delegates, Ambassador Ray said, “You have to look at what’s going on, on the ground, in order to understand the reality. There is a gap between the perceived risk here and the real risk. The real risk, in most cases, is far less than the perceived risk caused by the image the country has.”
Building on these themes, a special congress session, featuring Ambassador Ray and US Ambassador to Zambia, Mark C. Storella, was held on the second to last day of the congress. The two Ambassadors spoke about prospects for US trade and investment in the tourism sector in the neighboring countries, along with the role the US embassies play in improving relations and facilitating exchanges.
The Congress kicked off with ATA’s third annual Young Professionals Program Forum at the Elephant Hills Hotel. Students, young professionals and industry leaders from the tourism and hospitality sector came together to discuss the most pressing issues for young professionals in the industry. Topics included harnessing social media to promote African tourism, rural tourism development, and the ethics of sustainability and ecological integrity.
Ministers from Central African Republic, Ghana, Namibia, Togo, and Zimbabwe participated in the Tourism Ministers’ Roundtable. Everyone agreed that the benefits of tourism could be strengthened if African governments collaborated more closely with each other and the private sector over a number of issues, including connectivity, visas, branding, and packaging products. The importance of integrating local community into tourism programs was also stressed.
Inspired by the Japanese television cooking show, Iron Chef, ATA held the first “ATA Culinary Experience.” Delegates enjoyed a luncheon prepared by culinary students from the Bulawayo School of Hospitality and Tourism Studies and chefs from Victoria Falls hotels. Visiting chefs from the USA, Chef Pierre Thiam, Senegalese cookbook author, Yolele!, and Eric Simeon, E&E Grill House Executive Chef, judged the competition, along with Ambassador Ray; Dr. Nancy Scanlon of Florida International University; Chef Christopher Gonzo, Chief Executive of the Zimbabwean Culinary Association; and Chef Johnson, Chief Technical Coordinator of ZTA.
Sessions on social media strategies with RS Social and the role of film in marketing destinations with “Thinking Forward Media” provided participants with practical tools for more effective media relations and marketing. An Expedia representative discussed the importance of bringing Africa’s products to market through social media, mobile technology, and the Internet. A Matador Network representative discussed how to leverage content from dozens of partners to create a unified strategy for promoting your destination on the Web. Group IST also presented on the pros and cons of volun-tourism.
Delegates explored several new tourism topics at the congress, including “Women’s Engagement in Africa’s Tourism Industry,” which brought together representatives from Affluent Hospitality Group, Amalinda Collection, United Nations World Tourism Organization, and ZTA to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing women in the tourism industry today.
Leading travel trade and mainstream media representatives explored the relationships between tourism and the media at one of the sessions. Participants spoke about how to develop more effective media relations and how to move travel news to the front pages. The participants spoke about how the negative and the positive play a role in creating perceptions of Africa and stressed the potential role of the media in communicating tourism’s contribution to development and achieving political stability.
At Zimbabwe Culture Night, ATA announced the recipients of ATA’s annual awards. The recipients of the Outstanding Service to the Association awards were Hon. Mzembi (MP), Minister of Tourism and Hospitality Industry of Zimbabwe; Karikoga Kaseke; Chief Executive of the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA); Tesa Chikaponya, Executive Director of Destination Marketing at ZTA; and Evelyn Chidyausiku, US Representative of ZTA. Robert Brunner, Vice President of the Americas for Arik Air International Ltd. received the Outstanding Leadership Award; and Dr. Yohannes Zeleke, President of the ATA Mid-Atlantic Chapter, received the ATA Founder’s Award. Chef Pierre Thiam and Chef Eric Simeon received the Development of Responsible Tourism in Africa awards and ATA outgoing President, Hon. Fatou Mas Jobe-Njie, Minister of Tourism and Culture of The Gambia, received the Promotion of Responsible Tourism to Africa Award. Finally, Andrea Papitto, Vice President of Thinking Forward Media, received the Young Professionals Leadership award.
SHOWCASING DESTINATION ZIMBABWE
As soon as they arrived in Victoria Falls, delegates enjoyed a tour of Victoria Falls, one of the world’s seven wonders. Many also participated in activities around the falls, including bungee jumping, gorge swing and ziplining over the Zambezi, lion and elephant encounters, and helicopter rides and safaris in Zimbabwe and Botswana during the congress.
On the first host-country day, ATA delegates visited a community-based tourism project in Mpisi Village, where they enjoyed local cuisine, traditional music, and dance. En route to the village, delegates participated in the annual ATA tree planting ceremony to offset the carbon footprint of the congress.
The Zambia Tourist Board co-sponsored the second host-country day. Delegates crossed the Zambezi River into Livingstone for lunch and cultural entertainment. They also visited several hotel properties, including the Chrismar and Royal Livingstone hotels, and toured the Royal Livingstone Express, a luxury rail experience. The day wrapped up in Zimbabwe with a sunset river cruise on the Zambezi.
During the congress, delegates also enjoyed two special evening events. Sponsored by Rainbow Tourism Group, the first was a cocktail reception with live music and food at the A’Zambezi River Lodge. The next was held at The Boma Restaurant at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, hosted by Africa Albida Tourism. ATA delegates also celebrated with over one thousand music fans at an outdoor concert with one of Zimbabwe’s most revered musicians, Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi.
ATA’s young professionals hosted the third annual “Celebrate Africa Social Night,” a time for the delegates to enjoy Zimbabwean music, cuisine, and dancing and culture. The night began with a traditional braai dinner in the garden of The Kingdom Hotel, followed by dancing at The Wild Thing Action Bar. At a press conference during the congress, Karikoga Kaseke, Chief Executive of the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA), announced that Zimbabwe will form an ATA Young Professionals chapter to “…advance the interests of our young professionals in the industry.”
South African Airways, Presenting Sponsor and Official Airline of the 2012 ATA World Congress, organized special discounts for delegates attending the Congress. Arik Air served as Official Media Carrier of the World Congress. Media sponsors included Afrique Expansion, eTurboNews, RS Social, and Travel World News. ATA, in partnership with Arik Air and ZTA, organized a diverse media delegation, including representatives from Africa.com, Afrique Expansion, Bloomberg Business, Essence Magazine, Jax Fax, Matador Network, Network Journal, Ogo Sow Communications, RS Social, Travel World News, and VOA News. ETurboNews also covered the event.
Most delegates stayed at the official congress venue in Victoria Falls, Elephant Hills Resort, along with Adventure Zone Lodge, The Kingdom Hotel, Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, Victoria Falls Hotel, Victoria Falls Rainbow Hotel, and the A’Zambezi River Lodge.
ATA is a member of the International Council of Tourism Partners (ICTP), a new and fast-growing grassroots travel and tourism coalition of global destinations committed to quality service and green growth.