Why Africa needs to invest in  sustainable, inclusive tourism Nomasonto Ndlovu

The need for green investment in tourism has never been more crucial, says Nomasonto Ndlovu, chief operating officer of South African Tourism.

Imagine waking up one day unable to enjoy travel or experience the majesty of nature, no longer enjoy a walk on the beach, a hike up a mountain, take in that sunset view, or enjoy your favourite tourist experience. While this is unimaginable, it’s not impossible – given the trajectory we are on.

Not making the right decisions today will haunt us tomorrow and rob our kids of tourism.

Tourism is woven into the fabric of our dreams and aspirations; it’s a cornerstone of our economic vitality. Yet it’s a sector in peril, not just from the recent global Covid health crisis but from a more long-term threat that will rob us and generations to come – climate change.

We commemorated the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) World Tourism Day on Wednesday, 27 September, which was dedicated to the crucial theme of ‘Tourism and Green Investments’ this year.

This comes just days after witnessing heart-wrenching natural calamities like the floods in Cape Town, the most beautiful city in the world as recently named by The Telegraph.

Last year KwaZulu-Natal, a popular domestic tourism destination, was also hit by disastrous floods which the province is still recovering from.

These events are more than just headlines; they are cautionary tales. Tourism in Africa predominantly capitalises on our irreplaceable natural beauty, and any harm to it is a direct blow to our industry.

 As we focus on sustainable tourism recovery, this calls for all players in tourism and hospitality to make sure the green investments are made today to secure the future of tourism.

It’s baffling that tourism often takes a backseat in policy discussions and investment planning. The sector is overlooked in favour of more ‘glamorous and lucrative’ industries like mining, neglecting its critical role in economic development.

We must transform this outlook, especially in South Africa, where there’s an urgent need to make tourism more inclusive and representative.

The industry needs targeted investment in education and upskilling, with a focus on women and SMEs, who constitute a significant portion of our tourism workforce.

 In his official message for this year’s World Tourism Day celebration, UNWTO secretary-general Zurab Pololikashvili underscored the power of tourism.

“The power of tourism is enormous. But it is not a force that can be taken for granted. Instead, it must be supported, above all with investment. This World Tourism Day we recognise the theme of Tourism and Green Investments,” he said.

The UNWTO emphasises the triple pillar investment strategy: People, Planet, and Prosperity. However, the big question remains – why should we even need to be told this? It should be common sense.

Tourism’s sidelining by our leaders isn’t just negligent; it’s catastrophic for a sector that has enormous economic potential. The need for green investment in tourism has never been more crucial. 

Hotels alone present a US$24,7 trillion investment opportunity in green buildings by 2030 (Source IFC 2018 Climate Investment Opportunities in Cities).

Accelerating climate innovation and supporting new technologies and business models are not just ethical choices, they are smart, future-proof investments.

 Private actors must step up. We need zero-emission pathways, renewable energy adoption, and more sustainable business practices.

For our sector to survive and thrive, we must close the gender gap in financing and promote women entrepreneurs who bring innovation and societal values to the table.

The message is clear. If we act now, if we truly invest in sustainable and inclusive tourism, we safeguard not just an industry but also our environment, our cultural heritage, and indeed, our future.

    Strategies and policies are meaningless without action. It’s time to hold our leaders accountable and demand implementation.

Let this World Tourism Day and Tourism Month in SA (September) serve as a call to action.

As we rebuild post-pandemic, let us strive for a tourism industry that our children and grandchildren can not only enjoy but also be proud of. The time for green investment is now, and the future is watching. Moneyweb

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