Cultural tourism in Africa: strategies for the new millennium.


Cultural tourism in Africa: strategies for the new millennium.


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Edited by Professor John Akama and Dr Patricia Sterry
Proceedings of the ATLAS Africa International Conference December 2000,
Mombasa, Kenya
Arnhem. ATLAS, 253 pp.
ISBN: 90-75775-12-1

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The papers in this volume are a selection from those presented at the Atlas Africa conference, 'Cultural Tourism in Africa: Strategies for the New Millennium' in Mombasa, Kenya, December 2000. The main aim of the conference was to identify innovative and creative strategies for the development, promotion and marketing of culture-based tourism in Africa in the New Millennium. Invited speakers of distinction from a number of different countries, including Africa, USA, Great Britain, the Netherlands and Australia, debated, challenged and explored issues associated with the goals of the conference and addressed specific themes. Speakers did not aim for definitive answers but speculated on strategies for Africa that would increasingly become a basis for economic prosperity. We also identified initiatives that would gain mutual advantage from collaboration.
 
This volume is organised in five sections in order to present, systematically, the various issues and perspectives of cultural tourism development in Africa in the new millennium. The first section is a critical reflection of the issues of cultural tourism. It opens with Donald Reid's paper on Learning from the Past and concludes with Harry Wels' critical reflection on The Power of European Imagery. The authors contend that, in most instances, the current forms of cultural tourism presentations in most African countries have neither contributed to socio-cultural and economic empowerment, nor has tourism initiatives contributed to cross-cultural understanding between host communities in Africa and tourists. At the worst, most current forms of cultural tourism presentations in Africa have perhaps contributed to further socio-economic marginalisation and the creation of stereotypes.
 
The second section is concerned with development and impacts. Here authors develop various frameworks and analysis of current practices, potentials and impacts of cultural tourism development in Africa. The papers provide a reasonable indication of cultural tourism development in Africa at present. One of the important aspect that is presented in the papers is the fact that indigenous communities should be actively involved in the decision-making processes of cultural tourism development and in the choice of the forms of cultural attractions that are to be presented to outsiders (tourists). Concerns about the extent to which tourism and modernisation may damage the cultural fabric of Africa can be seen in the papers about the impacts of tourism. There should be clear trade-off between the existing market demands and local people's needs and social values.
 
The third section focuses on the cultural tourism experience. Many of the papers, particularly those that are based on specific case studies, focus on the use of the living heritage of Africa societies as cultural attractions. The richness of contemporary culture and cultural traditions is underlined by the variety of topics covered: traditional dance, arts and crafts, and sacred landscapes. The intimate connection between rural communities, nature and culture is reflected in the number of papers covering wildlife and rural culture.
 
The penultimate section provides strategies for interpretation, for attracting non-visitors and a comparison between potential and achievement. Since specific studies on cultural tourism in Africa are limited, research information and experience acquired elsewhere can be useful especially in assisting to chart the way forward for the development of cultural tourism in Africa. One of the main challenges of new initiatives which has to be tackled is the manner in which to provide appropriate interpretation. As Sterry in this volume contends, "interpretation conveys the narrative of meaning and understanding of cultural heritage and provides a synergy between what is often a commercial activity on the one hand and a special bond between people and place, and between community and culture on the other." Consequently, interpretation is an important component of the successful development and presentation of cultural attractions; it is crucial to visitor understanding of cultural manifestations and portrayal of culture. Sterry describes Heritage Centres as a successful model in the UK that may well be appropriate for African initiatives. Critical questions, she suggests, such as who has the control over cultural sites and whose interpretation of the past and present is to be conveyed, should be answered when planning and designing appropriate interpretation techniques.
 
The concluding section tackles issues of sustainable development as they relate to cultural tourism development in the African context. The authors point to the fact that there is ongoing debate on what constitutes sustainable development in general, and sustainable cultural tourism development in particular. It is generally agreed that sustainable development is that form of development that meets the needs of the present generations without compromising the ability of the future generations meeting their own needs. The authors contend that the concept of sustainable development particularly as it applies to cultural tourism development has not been appropriately defined and operationalised. There are no agreed parameters, for instance, to gauge and ascertain the characteristics of sustainable development of cultural tourism. The papers present the view that for appropriate development of cultural tourism, the needs and aspirations of all the stakeholders including those of local communities, whose cultural resources are being presented to tourists, should be taken into consideration. There is also consensus that sustainable development of cultural tourism should include elements of improvement of the quality of life of local communities, visitor satisfaction and the conservative use of the cultural and nature based resources.
 
The papers in this volume will stand as a lasting contribution to the conference aims that explore strategies for new cultural tourism initiatives in Africa for the New Millenium. They were a collective response and illustrate that the way forward will be reasoned, diverse and developed through cooperation, insight and partnership.

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