What immediately pops into your mind when you hear the word "Africa"? Is it the sunrise-drenched open plains that sweep out before you as you embark on a game drive to track down the famous Big 5. Is it the taste-bud-tingling whiff of tangine you smell as you wander through the weaving alleyways of the Medina in Marrakesh. Or is the incredible sense of awe you feel when you gaze upon the tremendous scale of the Pyramids or the cascading thunder of Victoria Falls.
The word "Africa" most certainly evokes a kaleidoscope of imagery in one's mind. The problem is a lot of this imagery is overtaken by the news stories-that-sell of despot leaders, violence, and widespread poverty. Stories that gain far more airtime than stories of the breathtaking cultures and places on this continent. And the inspiring entrepreneurs who are changing the face of Africa and the world, through their innovations that range from leather shoes manufactured from pineapple or fish-skin to new digital currency exchanges systems.
I am one of the first people to stand up to say that we desperately need to rebrand Africa to reflect the true diversity of experience, promise and possibility that exists across the continent. So you would think that I would be overjoyed by the increasing focus that the UNWTO CAF and African Union is placing on the creation of a "Brand Africa."
However, the struggle that I am facing with these initiatives is that the focus is being put on branding Africa for international tourists. I am not saying that international tourism is not important, however, I am saying that it is not the most important market we should be branding Africa for. Let me explain why. Pre-covid Africa attracted a mere 5% of the global tourism market which I agree is a pittance of its capability. In contrast Europe attracted 50% of the world's international arrivals. If we take this data at surface level only one could argue that we desperately need to create a Brand Africa to unlock our capacity to attract a bigger share of the market.
However, such a view is flawed. Why you ask?
Because in actual fact over 80% of Europe's arrivals are Europeans. The strength of their tourism industry does not lie in their ability to attract long-haul travel from America, Australia or even China. The strength of Europe's tourism industry lies in their ability to attract everyday (emphasis on everyday and not super rich) Europeans. It is Europe's middle class domestic and regional tourism industry that is its 'secret sauce of success.'
What will happen if we focus on creating a 'Brand Africa' for 'others' is that we run the risk of alienating our African market even further. Already over 84,4% of Africans I surveyed believe that tourism on the continent is focused on international tourists and not Africans, with the resultant 76,1% correlation of Africans preferring to travel overseas than within the continent.
Let us not dilute the attraction of Africa for Africans even further.
We need to 'Brand Africa for Africans.'
But we are a continent of 54 countries, tens of thousands of cultures, and over 2000 dialects.
How on earth do we attempt to brand all of this you ask?
By recognising firstly and perhaps most importantly that destination branding is about more than creating a catchy by-line accompanied by beautiful pictures.
By realising that we are not creating a brand to showcase places, but the rich intersection of culture, food, music, creatives, designers, entrepreneurs, and experiences.
By tapping into the power that brands have to inspire connection in an authentic and compelling way that speaks to hearts and minds.
By embracing diversity as our strength by opening up conversations with each other about our own greatness, about what makes each and every corner of our continent unique, special, distinct and compelling for us as Africans to experience.
By creating the rich layers of stories that create a brand that speak to the different personalities of our regions and countries on the continent.
Follow me to learn more about the exciting collaborations I am working on that are bringing people together to explore how we can Brand Africa for Africans.