The road ahead for inclusive growth in Africa’s tourism

This year, the World Tourism Day celebrations focus on tourism for inclusive growth. The message is that behind every statistic for tourism dollars and visitor arrivals, there are human faces of those supporting tourism. The issue being addressed is advances in tourism which have opened doors to exclusion. This has allowed undue credit to be given as regards to successes of tourism, leaving behind those at the margins of the sector’s corporate-led interests. Unaddressed, exclusion undermines potential of tourism to contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

While focus on inclusive growth is an optimistic message, there is the risk of its obligations being shelved away, a precedence set by other calls to action, declarations, and wake up calls, whose implementations remain opaque, and can be likened to a black box. Hence it won’t be surprising for the workings of tourism for inclusive growth to be unknown and likewise its outcomes, as interests of a corporate-led sector maintain a dominating position at the fore. Ideally, the journey towards achieving inclusive growth must begin by addressing systemic issues behind exclusion in the sector.

One of the areas where tourism has advanced in globally and in Africa, is on gender balanced representation. UNWTO statistics pre pandemic show the global tourism workforce comprising 54% women, while this number is at 69% for Africa.  However, despite high participation of women in the sector, unequal power relations along gender lines often oppress women. This is because tourism is a form of supremacy, with dominance supported in corporate-led interests as well as patriarchy. So, tourism growth has not been for all, leaving behind many women who toil to build commercial successes of the sector. Some long-standing challenges for Africa’s tourism include persistent gender pay gap in the sector; vulnerability of women’s work in tourism, particularly owing to the reinforcement of gender stereotypes; and discriminatory work practices.

Besides, financial exclusion is a burdensome issue, cross cutting multiple other disadvantages and oppressions that women in tourism face owing to their gender. To some extent, this exemplifies the fact that exclusion is borne out of systemic imbalances in today’s world, and often results in disproportionate disadvantages. Women’s lack of a bank account, a prevalence across the continent, has repercussions that greatly limits their entrepreneurial ventures. It implies little or no savings, no access to entrepreneurial credit, no access to financial advice, and no assets. Overall, it impedes their entrepreneurial capacity in micro small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in tourism, yet these may present opportunities for socio-economic emancipation. Thus, the road ahead for inclusive growth in Africa’s tourism, must address the intersectionality of oppressions that supersede the inclusion of women in tourism growth.

Judy Kepher Gona, while speaking at the recently held Africa Travel & Tourism Summit, advises on taking steps for intentional inclusivity, saying it means “confronting the current fragmentation of the tourism sector in Africa to make it more equitable, more diverse, and accessible.”  For Africa’s tourism, the task to realize a vision for inclusive growth requires immediate efforts to disassemble oppressive power structures against those on the margins of the sector’s corporate led- interests.