I am an African living overseas and working with a fantastic team of specialists who run tour companies in South Africa. I adopted this career because there seemed to be no other way to share my passion for Africa with the world. I aim to be a good ambassador for Africa, by encouraging others to share the amazing experiences I had when growing up. I am very proud to work for African tourism. All tour operators are proud to do what we do.
Africans everywhere have to overcome a lot of misconceptions that foreigners have about the continent and about who we are as people and how we live our lives at home. As tour operators, our aim is to educate visitors about how we live and the kinds of people we really are. We don’t have to dodge lions in our back gardens, we don’t hunt game on weekends, we know what Ketchup is, and we love foreigners who take the time to get to know us.
To be honest, I actually love sharing my knowledge of Africa. Mine is a fun role, which gives me a chance to talk about something that is dear to me, and a chance for others to share my excitement about Africa and the amazing life we lead. I am energized by thoughts of Africa. In fact, a love of Africa is something that all of us in the tour business walk around with. It’s a pride that binds us as Africans. They say that once bitten, Africa gets into the blood, which means that visitors can come again and again, and share our excitement too.
Yet for a month or so I have had defended Africa against amazingly misguided thinking. I never expected to have to confront such ignorance. Of course, I am talking about Ebola. Rest assured, not all Africans are not carriers of the virus. And many of Africa’s health systems function well so that if the disease arrives with a visitor, we will tackle it just like they are doing in Spain, the USA and elsewhere.
But re-education is hard. Even those who have stood by me in my belief that Africa is a fantastic place to visit – including some members of my own extended family – now question my wisdom. I am disappointed. I know I am not alone in this, for others in the tour industry, in and outside Africa, are battling ignorance about Ebola-in-Africa daily.
This time it’s harder than other times and alone we feel deflated. But as a community of Africans, we must stand together and offer support to one another, and find ways together of tackling the ignorance that spawns avoidance of Africa. Our visitors will come around – they really will – if we work to re-educate people about our beautiful continent.
The tourism community has a history of standing together. Working together now we can counter scaremongering news media that paints Africa with a single brush, and that hypes all that is negative. We can present facts to offset ill-informed public opinion.
I ask the tour operators in Africa not to sit idle and wait for a miracle, or for a governing body to spread the message that Africa is a safe destination waiting for visitors. We need to educate with one loud voice and to set the record straight and bring our tourists back.
If you want to keep this conversation going, use the hashtag #yestoafrica so our voices can be heard as one. Tell our visitors to say #yestoafrica and to come and enjoy what this amazing continent has to offer.