CAPE TOWN, May 2 (Xinhua) -- Tourism in Africa has huge unrealized potential to unlock as the overall tourism contributions are still well below the global average of 10.4 percent of GDP in the continent, South African Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom said on Thursday.
The number of people travelling globally will reach 1.8 billion by 2030, Hanekom said, citing figures from the World Tourism Organization.
Africa will have to increase its share from its current 5 to 7 percent of all global arrivals, and this would be 126 million arrivals, almost double the number Africa has now, Honekom said in his opening address at Africa's Travel Indaba 2019, the continent's largest travel trade show, taking place in Durban, a coastal city in eastern South Africa.
In total, directly and indirectly, the tourism industry contributed 8.5 percent to African GDP in 2018, supporting more than 24 million jobs on the continent, or 6.7 percent of all jobs, according to Honekom.
In 2018 Africa received 67 million international tourists, a growth of 7 percent from 2017, comfortably ahead of the world average growth of 6 percent.
This represents 5 percent of all global international arrivals, up nearly 14 million from the low of 2015, a year when Africa faced the challenge of Ebola.
"We have grown on average by almost 8 percent for three years in a row," said Honekom.
He said African countries must enhance cooperation every year to drive massive growth in tourism numbers by bringing together a range of their best and most unique products from across the continent, and connecting them with buyers from across the world.
Africa has a lot to offer to tourists, such as significant and unique heritage and cultural sites, beautiful scenaries, diverse wildlife and safari experiences, he said.
"With this indisputable competitive and geographic advantage, we have the base of what the world's tourists are seeking," Honekom said.
He also pointed to Africa's potential for domestic tourism growth, saying intra-continental tourism from Africa's rapidly growing economies and growing middle class is an opportunity begging to be exploited.
"We need improved collaborative efforts between our countries to achieve this," said the minister.
He stressed the need for all African countries to sign the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), which has been inked by only 23 countries so far.
The SAATM is intended to drive down airfares by allowing more airlines to freely access and increase frequency of flights to more countries.
African countries must achieve the African Union Agenda 2063 - especially with respect to free movement of people everywhere on the continent, and the easing or dropping of visa requirements in the next few years to enable this, Honekom said.
"Ensuring that communities access real benefits from tourism is critical to the success and sustainability of this industry on our continent," said Honekom.
He urged African countries to 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 that tourism makes a positive and meaningful contribution to the lives of all the people of Africa," he said.
The three-day Africa Travel Indaba brought together nearly 1,000 representatives from around Africa and other countries to explore ways of developing tourism in Africa. The event also offered a platform for hundreds of tourism products from across the continent to be exhibited.