The Africa continent is increasingly becoming a desired destination for millions of world-class travelers, who enjoy the white sandy beaches, wildlife safaris, and cultural tours in every region of Africa.
Some 55.7 million international visitors traveled to Africa in 2013, according to the UN World Tourism Organization. The top tourist destinations in Africa are Morocco, South Africa, Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Mozambique, Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. Overall, 33 of Sub-Saharan Africa's 48 countries have the capacity to build a thriving tourism industry.
Tourism is helping to drive socio-economic progress in African countries and today accounts for 9 percent of Africa's GDP.
Yet, there is tremendous room for growth.
Given the high unemployment rate in many African nations, increased investments in tourism will produce considerable economic returns in local economies. Tourism has the potential to create 200 full-time formal jobs for each $250,000 invested compared to 100 stable jobs in the resources sector, cited McKinsey Global Institute's "Africa at Work" report.
The World Bank estimates that the tourism industry could potentially add 3.8 million jobs over the next 10 years in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Still, increased investments must be coupled with a robust skills training and education opportunities to strengthen the workforce in Africa's hospitality sector.
The lack of hospitality skills in the African workforce has become a major barrier in advancing tourism in Africa. Currently, the hospitality sector faces a major skills gap in business management and operations and customer service.
The overall low education and skills of local industry workers, as well as language and cultural barriers are impeding the growth of tourism in Africa.
Tourism and hospitality education is key in fueling the hospitality sector in Africa. The Africa-America Institute (AAI), the organization that I lead, is committed to providing opportunities for advanced professional education and training to managers and workers in key sectors of Africa's tourism ind.ustry.
Education will help to professionalize an industry that has a high capacity for employment along the whole value chain. Professional development training will also ensure that a well-trained and committed staff is in place to provide high-quality travel experiences, which increases the value of future tourist stays.
To boost the hospitality sector, African governments need to create an enabling environment for strengthening the workforce in the tourism industry by setting high standards for the industry, quality control and assurance of hotel workers and tour operators, and recruitment of top teaching staff at educational institutions.
While training for entry-level positions like front desk management, housekeeping, and food service is critical to the tourism industry, training is also needed for employees who work in the public sector related to tourism, such as wildlife reserves and national parks. The public sector also needs civil servants with managerial level skills for destination planning and management.
In a technological world, online communications and technology should play a greater role in tourism and hospitality education. Universities and technical and vocational schools that are better equipped with the latest technology can teach courses in hospitality priority areas like reservations, marketing and communications. Tech innovators can help change perceptions about Africa by showcasing a fully connected continent where tourists can gain access to high speed internet connections and mobile phones.
Education institutions and the private sector must work together to bolster Africa's tourism industry and spur economic growth. As the creator of jobs, the private sector can weigh in on designing curriculums to prepare graduates for industry jobs, offering an assessment of graduates' readiness for employment, and placing students in internships.
The Africa Travel Association's 40th annual World Congress, which was held from November 9-14, 2015 in Nairobi, Kenya, provided a platform for African tourism ministers, industry professionals, travel agents and operators, and other stakeholders to come together to envision ways of strengthening the hospitality sector. Expanding opportunities for young people to receive a tourism and hospitality education for workforce development was discussed at the gathering.
Nearly 135 million international travelers are expected to visit Africa by 2030. Well-trained staff is a traveler's first and lasting point of contact. Now is the time to invest in building a strong workforce - and to ensure that both regional and international visitors keep coming back to tourist destinations in Africa again and again.
To learn more about The Africa-America Institute, visit www.aaionline.org