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SOLLY MOENG, FOUNDER OF THE BRAND AFRICA SUMMIT SPEAKS ON THE TRAVEL INDUSTRY'S ROLE IN TELLING AFRICA'S STORY

“To reclaim and enhance a positive reputation, Africa must engage in regular uncomfortable conversations. The health of any brand’s reputation can open doors for the said brand or ensure that they either shut in its face or remain shut, denying it of opportunities. Where such a brand is a destination, a healthy reputation can help it effortlessly attract Foreign Direct Investments, business and leisure tourists, fee paying foreign students, multilaterally funded research projects, and a whole basket of other foreign exchange earning opportunities that will contribute handsomely to the local economy by bringing in rare skills, developing local ones, and creating a whole array of other job, Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) opportunities in various fields.” – Solly Moeng.

Solly Moeng is the Founder and Convenor of the Africa Brand Summit,  which has over the years gained significant traction as it builds on its recognition as a leading platform for monitoring evolving perceptions and growing narratives about Africa, as well as their impact on the continent’s ability to attract goodwill and grow into a truly dynamic, inclusive and integrated economy. 

Solly and others like him who are on an active campaign to redraft the continent’s narrative, believe that it is not by chance that people the world over, find it easy to want to go to Paris, London, Geneva, New York, or to Singapore, Hawaii, Cape Town, Sydney, San Francisco, Vancouver, and countless other traditional destinations, and that they will do so almost with their eyes closed, without seeming to worry about whether they would be safe to eat the food, drink the water, walk the streets, or be safely treated at local hospitals should anything go wrong during their visits.

Apart from only a handful of them, African destinations have not always easily benefited from the kind of automatic trust described above. Sadly, being African has also not been covered with glory and automatic acceptance in many parts of the world. Africans still get viewed with suspicion when they board international flights, cross national borders, apply for jobs, scholarships, or attempt to rent places to live in, in many places around the world.

They easily get asked questions that do not get asked of others, and a lot of the attitudes they face have to do with how Africa tends to be perceived, around the world. To many, it remains a place of little development. Little development in global skills; little development in modern infrastructure; little development in what is accepted as modern savoir faire, savoir vivre and sophistication. It is also perceived as a place of scourges such as high levels of government corruption, dictatorships, illnesses, abject poverty, undeveloped political cultures, and high levels of unpredictability when it comes to economic and political policies.

Travel across Africa: The perceptions

When travel consumers the world over hear the words  "travel across Africa", as industry stakeholders and more importantly, citizens of the great continent of Africa, it is critical that there is a collective understanding of the perceptions that the world beyond our coastlines carries, so we know how to effectively combat these through knowledge-sharing and continued engagement on the more difficult topics.

“People, who have never been to Africa always have preconceived ideas of Africa being one large homogenous patch of land with wild animals and the village people all over the place. It is often only once they arrive in Africa that they discover some modern cities with advanced infrastructure, beaches, and very diverse wildlife experiences in different parts of the continent. Younger travellers get surprised by the invigorating nightlife in some African cities that favourably matches what they have known elsewhere”, cites Solly, when asked to share his thoughts on the perceptions that some international travellers carry before embarking on a journey to explore Africa for themselves.

Perhaps there is a greater role that all Africans should play in presenting a more positive image of the continent, one that would attract such levels of interest as do the likes of the aforementioned, western and European travel destinations like Canada, Singapore and France. Africa isn’t one big patch of land but rather 54 individual countries with an intricate web of cultures, belief systems, histories and governments.

“Travel marketers across Africa must be smart in how they package the continent to not only focus on stereotypical aspects of it. They must understand their target markets and create opportunities for inbound tour operators to play their part in offering the many tourist gems that often serve to create the appetite for more future visits and word-of-mouth promotions,” asserts Solly.

Africa’s collective USPs

When we talk of travel, tourism and hospitality in Africa, the continent is endowed with incredible assets. Solly believes Africa’s most significant unique selling point lie in just how diverse the continent is.

“Africa’s diversity is cultural, culinary, linguistic, scenic, floral, faunal, microbiological, oceanic, historical, and so on.  The rich diversity of African people, from north to south and east to west, as well as the topography and expanse of the land, suffice to offer anyone more than a thousand reasons to keep visiting different parts of the continent over time and never tiring of discovering new things. Africa is truly a world in one continent,” states Solly, and his assertion concretely sums up why Africa should appear on the list of anyone looking for truly enriching moments as part of their global exploration itinerary.

“Tourism and travel professionals are vital links between Africa and the outside world, as they play a huge role in first, helping raise awareness about individual countries, regions, and the whole continent and, secondly, educating prospective first time travellers about the continent and its many offerings. Knowledgeable travel professionals with a passion for Africa are best, as they’re best positioned to sell Africa in a positive way and ensure that what they include in the itineraries they propose, provides enough diversity and depth for first time travellers to be turned into positive ambassadors of the continent and to return over time, knowing that there is always something new to discover in Africa,” Solly adds.

The role of Culture tourism in building “brand Africa”

More destination marketers are viewing Africa’s artistic and cultural landscape as an opportunity to promote this to globally conscious individuals who are looking to connect with a people and their heritage in a deeper way. Countries such as Ghana, Kenya and South Africa have done well to curate tours that connect travellers with the history of their countries, much of which is presented through the creative space. When asked to comment on whether there are opportunities the continent should be pursuing in a quest to take Africa to the world, Solly emphasises that Africans are already generally known for their rich cultural diversity and artistic prowess, however expresses concern over a good number of famous African cultural and artistic icons opting to migrate and live in the West.

“There is much value in positioning key African centres as places to go to, almost as annual pilgrimage, to experience live festivals of all kinds. Places like Ouagadougou have long been positioned as honey pots for art lovers; other centres can be marketed for other art forms without necessarily competing with what is already working but to complement it. There will never be shortage, in Africa, of cultural and artistic expression of the kind that can be packaged to attract visitors from other parts of Africa and the world on a regular, even seasonal, basis. What Africa needs are people who can package its key offerings in the arts to compete with the best destinations around the world. But such packaging shouldn’t just be commercial. It should also involve and benefit locals in various parts of the continent so that they value, protect, and enhance the offering over time,” says Solly.

Where does Africa Brand Summit come in?

Africa Brand Summit aims to serve as a platform for discussions led by Africans, but with strong participation by others from across the world, to diagnose the evolving image of Africa and being African. The aim is to isolate perceptions about Africa and to understand what sits at the root of such perceptions. Some of the things that inform and shape such perceptions are home-made by Africans themselves, while others are fed by non-Africans, particularly, but not exclusively, in global media that often portrays Africa and being African, using preconceived notions and various forms of stereotypes.

In the end, Africans have direct control over their own conduct, on how they run their own affairs, and in the messages they send about Africa to the rest of the world – and this holds true even in the travel and tourism landscape, where players have a duty to inform. While they do not have control over what others say or write about Africa, they can better address such perceptions by changing many of things in Africa that serve as fertile ground for negative perceptions.

The theme of the Africa Brand Summit 2020, taking place on October 7th and 8th, is “Recapturing the South African Narrative; Interrogating Africa’s Brand Potential”

At a high-level, summit discussions will ask:

  • What is the current reputation/image of Africa as a whole, each of its five regions, and of select influencer countries?

  • How does such an image /reputation influence attitudes in Africa and across the world?

  • What are the key drivers/ influencers of such an image/reputation?

  • What must be done to augment/enhance the positive aspects and to progressively eliminate the negative ones?

  • What recommendations will be made for policy makers and other leaders in politics, corporate/business, civil society, media, and others, to get them to understand their respective roles and, eventually, to get them to play their part in generating, through their conduct, a progressively positive image of Africa, on the whole, and render it more attractive and hospitable for key skills (including those of expatriate Africans across the globe), (business) tourists, investors, global corporations, multilateral organisations, and so on?

In the words of Brand Africa Summit Founder and Convenor Solly Moeng, there are no short cuts to turning the current situation around and turning Africa into a more positively perceived place at home and around the world. There must be acknowledgement that part of the change must be made by us as Africans.  Secondly, there must be a broad agreement amongst Africans about how change in various areas of reputational impact must be brought about and implemented over time.

Ultimately, a positively positioned Africa will be easier to market, attracting more visitation from international travellers who can experience the continent holistically and authentically, thereby debunking myths of what the “African experience” looks like. There is a lot more power in the hands of Africans to take control of the African narrative than many seem to believe, with organisations operating in the travel and tourism landscape, as well as creatives in the arts and culture space, participating in the advancement of positive messaging as it relates to the continent of Africa.

To learn more about and register for the Africa Brand Summit visit https://africabrandsummit.co/

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A Narratives PR Magazine, Narratives PR LLC-FZ, Dubai, United Arab Emirates