Today, September 27 is World Tourism Day. This United Nations General Assembly affirmed adopted 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. Asserting that tourism can contribute to all the three dimensions of sustainable development – economic, social and environmental – and each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
In this spirit, World Tourism Day 2017 presents a unique opportunity to raise awareness on the contribution of sustainable tourism to development among public and private sector decision-makers and the international community, while mobilizing all stakeholders to work together in making tourism a catalyst for positive change.
Tourism is regarded as an important avenue to bringing about sustainable human development. It engenders economic growth and development through the creation of jobs and generating trade opportunities. This in turn results in poverty reduction thus leading to an improvement in the quality of life of the people.
Peace is also fostered through the creation of better understanding and unity between people of different cultures and backgrounds brought about by the interaction of tourists and host communities. Conservation and restoration of historical monuments and cultural heritages are also promoted through tourism as well as environmental cleanliness.
Tourism also has vast potential to developing gender equality and women’s empowerment. It presents a wide range of income generation opportunities both in the formal and informal sectors. This increases women’s access to and ownership of disposable income; enhances their economic independence, decision-making and social freedoms which have a positive impact on gender relations at all levels.
Many women are participating in tourism in innovative ways that benefit themselves, their families, communities and the sector. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO) tourism accounts for 46% of wage employment in tourism globally. Getting into the tourism supply chain is a real opportunity for women and family led entrepreneurs and small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), especially if a country’s tourism strategy targets the local economy and businesses.
Tourism also offers leadership possibilities more than in any other sector. Women are almost twice as likely to be employers in tourism as compared to others sectors.
Even though tourism is acknowledged as a driver of socio-economic development and growth in Africa, studies show that West Africa lags behind when it comes to travel and tourism. In its 2015 edition of the Annual Report on Competitiveness in Travel and Tourism published by the World Economic Forum, the African Tourism Monitor indicated that West African countries assessed in the report all appear in the bottom half of the ranking. Out of 141 countries Cabo Verde, the top-ranked country from the region, ranked 86th and Guinea 140th.
This underperformance is attributed to a number of factors that include low visibility in key markets; limited accessibility in terms of airline traffic; health and safety concerns associated with hygiene and quality of services and production; poor transportation networks; instability in the region which is further exacerbated by threats of terrorism (Mali, Nigeria and Burkina Faso; health threats (malaria, Ebola) and the lack of a dedicated financial structure to develop the tourism sector required for competing on the international travel industry.
These factors do not take into consideration the threats and risks that tourism also brings to women and girls. According to the UN Women, this includes the perpetuation of gender stereotypes, low pay, and the concentration of women “in low-skill, low-paid and precarious jobs.” Women typically earn “10% to 15% less than their male counterparts,” and tend to perform jobs such as cooking and cleaning. They also face various forms of sexual gender based violence, unwelcome advances due to cultural and attitudinal changes and increased burden of work.
Child labor which affects both boys and girls is also an ugly face of tourism. Children who work in the Toursim Development Areas have many of their rights violated. In many tourism destinations in West Africa an increase in prostitution has also led to an increased risk of sexually transmitted infections including HIV/AIDS. Prostitution often coincides with sexual gender based violence and other human rights violations such as human trafficking.
The existence of sex tourism is also a problem. It involves both adults and children. Organizations protecting human rights warn on the negative health, cultural and social effects of child sex tourism. This illicit activity forms a major portion of a multi-billion-dollar, fast-growing industry.
To make tourism beneficial for everyone Responsible Tourism has been adopted as a way of “making better places for people to live in and better places for people to visit.” Responsible Tourism requires tour operators, hoteliers, governments, local people and tourists to take responsibility and action to make tourism more sustainable. Responsible Tourism is not only an economic opportunity but an activity that carries with it significant cultural and civic dimensions, It allows West African countries to export their world tourism products – heritage, handicrafts, landscape, urban and community life while at the same time making sure that all stakeholders apply an ethical approach to their tourism activities.
Taking into consideration the enormous potential of tourism to address the poverty situation of the region, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has developed a tourism policy aimed at capturing a larger share of the global tourism market ECOWAS is also collaborating with the West Africa Tourism (WAT) organization to develop easy travel for tourists within the West African region to promote West Africa as a destination of choice.
In order to be relevant inside global tourist networks many West African countries have taken measures to advance tourism in their countries. It is believed that well-designed and well-managed tourism can make a significant contribution to sustainable development. This is an important step as tourism has played a significant role in empowering women politically, socially and economically.
However, West African governments must take decisive action at all levels to ensure that the gender gap in tourism is closed particularly by ensuring equal pay for equal work in the tourism sector in order to raise the quality of women’s employment and ending all forms of discrimination; improveand bolster environmental protection, and to strengthen peace in West Africa.