Doris Woerfel, a South African from Pretoria, who months ago was appointed the chief executive officer of the newly created Africa Tourism Board (ATB), a continental tourism body made of various tourism stakeholders, experts and organisations, which was formally inaugurated at the last World Travel Market Africa held in Cape Town, South Africa, spoke with ANDREW IRO OKUNGBOWA about the body, which is devoted to developing and promoting African continent as one tourist destination
Doris Woerfel has earned almost 20 years of commercial experience in Responsible Tourism as the chief executive officer of Southern Cross Experiences (PTY) Limited, the holding company of a group of companies with focus on Responsible Destination Management and on developing of African travel products.
She is committed to exploiting the potential of African communities, with highly-significant tourist attractions to benefit from overseas tourists through infrastructure development and socio-economic community development. To this end, she with a think tank and team of experts developed ‘The Southern Cross Tourism Development Programme,’ which is designed to support these communities in participating and benefitting in the international tourism industry through access to education, information, skills and leadership development, capacity building and grant and equity funding for their tourism-related projects and initiatives.
She also initiated the NGO Southern Cross Foundation, a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and New Partnership for Africa Development (NEPAD) Council cooperating organisation which has been set up to promote world-class heritage and conservation related community-based tourism projects in Africa, making use of the considerable cultural resources and assets that local communities in African countries possess.
What attracted you to the travel and tourism industry?
As a European, I always had the vision to experience the ‘real Africa.’ I wanted to stay in a rural homestead, not in a hotel, I wanted to see the tribal dances happening in the rural villages, not in a five star hotel. Community – based tourism was the driver in my decision to start a tourism company.
But I really fell in love with Africa on one of my first excursions in a remote part of the Southern African wilderness while on a nature training course. Cut off of all civilisation, with no electricity and no running water – only nature with its resources and many wild animals around us. On this trip I became aware of the importance of the collaboration between a minute blade of grass and a giant baobab tree. I suddenly understood that every plant and every animal are of immense importance in creating and maintaining nature’s equilibrium.
This makes up the ancient rhythm of nature – a rhythm that the local people in Africa have been living by for generations expressing it vividly through their colourful arts and culture.
In the wilderness my deep instinct and feelings, to be part of this rhythm got woken again. This rekindled awareness was what made it so easy for me to relax and to realise how little I need to be satisfied.
Did your appointment as CEO of African Tourism Board come to you as a surprise or it was something that you expected?
When I first learned about the African Tourism Board, I was thrilled about the idea of a tourism board that promotes Africa as one destination. I spent so many years working together with a think tank of experts and scientists on projects related to sustainable economic growth and development of communities in Africa, on how to implement a concept like a one – stop tourism marketing destination. But without media connection it is almost impossible to play a bigger role. When Juergen Steinmetz, the chairman of the ATB and publisher of eturbo.news.com invited me to become a member of the ATB, I told him that I want to play a role, not only as a member, but in the management to assist ATB to make a difference by bringing in my expertise in tourism development and marketing. Juergen told me then that he would be keen to have a CEO with my expertise.
How do see your appointment?
I see my appointment as a great challenge to contribute to a new tourism development and tourism marketing concept, where all African tourism destinations and their related communities, and all tourism professionals on the African continent become stakeholders in one company and benefit from its services and its projects.
What are you bringing on board as the CEO of ATB?
My expertise of almost 20 years in responsible destination management and socio-economic tourism and route development as the initiator of a new tourism development and marketing concept for Africa.
The Southern Cross Tourism Development Programme, with a massive network of tourism experts in the public and private sector; as speaker and keynote speaker at high level international conferences to promote our tourism concept globally – with the marketing of tourism products to the Chinese market during my five years stay in China; in executive management and business leadership; the leadership and management of large scale projects including product development and marketing in the tourism sector; to lead and coordinate diverse disciplines in multinational teams; to develop and build sustainable initiatives and to demonstrate both influencing and facilitation skills; and in fostering innovation across the industry.
What would be your immediate preoccupation as the CEO?
To establish a board of directors and committees and sub-committees on all important matters; To establish a communication platform for tourism experts; To get input from our members and motivate them to add more services and projects to our portfolio; To motivate my database of tourism experts and professionals to join the African Tourism Board and to benefit from its network, services and projects
I want to see the African Tourism Board as a “one-stop shop” for services related to peace and security, tourism development, tourism marketing and tourism investment in Africa; I want us to be easily accessible and therefore being presented globally in satellite offices in all source countries; I want us to tap into the full potential of tourism development and marketing the African tourism Industry has to offer.
I want us as a service provider to step into the ‘whatever it takes’ attitude to assist our members; and I want each tourism organisation or company to benefit from all these; I want the ATB to be the biggest network of travel- hospitality and tourism professionals in Africa; I want the ATB to be the one stop shop for all tourism related topics on the African continent, in form of a web-based database and map for any tourism product on the African continent
What is your perception of the present state of tourism in Africa?
With tourism being one of the key sectors and so many well developed and well marketed tourist destinations in Africa there are still too many countries and communities on the continent who do not benefit from tourism at all. This is because many attractions and heritage sites are not accessible:
Due to instable political situations in the relevant countries; Due to a lack of human and physical infrastructure; Due to a lack of funds for marketing and development; Due to a lack of knowledge, information and education about the cultural and historic background on some or even most of the cultural and heritage attractions in African countries.
It needs a long-term vision and well-designed structure to address the challenges above. We must also be realistic to understand that not all problems can be solved at all due to political instability and conflict.
How do you intend to sell the vision of ATB to the continent and get everyone on board the same ship?
The ATB executive council has already started with selling our vision to all stakeholders in tourism on the African continent by reaching out to them and motivate them to share their existing and planned tourism products with us. We have started connecting our members with our team of experts, i.e. in the fields of safety and security and job creation.
The ATB is very privileged for being connected to one of the biggest online tourism news, eturbonews with more than 200, 000 subscribers. All our members benefit from this web-based marketing platform by getting access to our huge network, tourism related information and database of tourism experts and professionals, to our highly professional services and projects in all spheres of the tourism industry. What do you see as the most challenging aspect of your job and how do you intend to overcome it?
The most challenging aspect of my job is the diversity of the 54 African countries and their political structures; The underdevelopment of many of these countries, not only in tourism; The structure and the multitude of aspects and topics of our aims; That should be addressed and dealt with to really make a difference in the tourism industry on the entire continent.
On a practical aspect, a challenge is the communication between the ATB board and steering committee members and to structure the diverse and multidisciplinary background of the ATB team-members, as we are based all over the globe and its different time-zones.
To overcome the challenges, I plan to establish subcommittees with teams for each of these aspects with specialised experts leading the teams. They should have a firm grasp on the responsibilities and tasks that each team should achieve.
I will encourage their creativity by scheduling open discussions on social media and other online platforms where everyone will have the opportunity to share their ideas and perspectives and get inspired.
Teleconference calls between the management, and the management and the team leaders will be scheduled on a regularly basis.
What is your message to governments in Africa in view of the mission of ATB?
My message would be to join forces between all their tourism boards to work together to convert Africa into a clean, green/climate friendly, safe, sustainable and responsible tourism destination.
The African Tourism Board serves as a catalyst to exactly achieve this, from both, the public and the private sector perspective. The ATB Association serves as a networking platform for the tourism ministries and tourism boards on the African continent, the ATB Marketing Corporation is a networking platform for the entire corporate tourism industry, with the focus on the African continent, may it be inside Africa or from the source markets.
Therefore, I would motivate all countries in Africa to join the African Tourism Board as members in order to initiate, facilitate and advance our common vision to make Africa become one tourist destination for the benefit of Africa and its people.
Where do you want ATB to be in a year’s time?
I want a steering committee to be finalised and established, working on the implementation of the projects in their subdivisions in an efficient way.
I want us to be easily accessible, and therefore, being presented in satellite offices in all source countries globally. I want ATB to have the biggest network of travel, hospitality and tourism professionals in Africa.
I want ATB to have the most recognised and accredited experts in the tourism industry and make their proficiency available to the entire tourism industry in Africa.
I want to have published the ‘Showcase Africa’ website and application accessible to anybody who would like to travel to Africa, be it for private or business purpose. I want to have started with the implementation of a list of tourism development related projects in Africa in order to extend the tourism products in areas of Africa which are not yet known to the international travellers.
What difference do you think that ATB would make in the tourism industry?
I strongly believe that the African Tourism Board will change the tourism climate on the entire continent by not only promoting existing tourism products on the African continent but also to extend the current tourist destination portfolio by new destinations which display the colourful history and culture of the continent.
At the same time I want Africa to benefit from the ATB’s one-stop information shop that promotes Africa to any holiday maker or business person who is planning to come to Africa.
Describe your travelling profile within the continent, how many of the countries have you visited before now and which of them made the most impression on you and why?
I travelled quiet extensively throughout the continent, private and business related to the following countries:
South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Mozambique, Mauritius, Kenia and Egypt.
The most outstanding and impressive one is Egypt, which I visited only two weeks ago. It got such a choice and variety of history and archaeology and also treasures in its museums. The only problem is that many tourists don’t consider Egypt as safe due to its terrorist attacks in the recent past. Even when I visited Egypt, I got very close to a site where a bomb hit a tourist bus with 25 South African citizens. Many of them were injured badly. These things are a killer for the tourism industry in a country.
Due to this challenge, I find South Africa to be the number one tourist destination in Africa, not only, when it comes to tourism safety and security: As promoted by South African Tourism, it is the world in one country. It has such a variety of landscapes, wildlife, people, culture, folklore and attractions. Its tourism infrastructure is highly sophisticated. It also hosts a very important UNESCO World Heritage Sites on the African continent: Mapungubwe.
It is evidence of ancient trade with Africa. The kingdom or possibly queendom was the first stage in a development that would culminate in the creation of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe in the 13th century, and with gold trading links to China, India and Egypt and other Indian Ocean RIM countries.
If you have the opportunity now, which of the Africa country would you want to visit?
There are so many possibilities that I have not done yet which are all on my bucket list. Some of them are: Trekking the gorillas and chimpanzees in Uganda and Rwanda; Exploring Nigerias’ rainforest; Diving the Red Sea in Egypt; Visiting Lalibela in Ethiopia; Ballooning over the great migration in Tanzania; and Exploring Old Stone Town in Zanzibar
My dream is to make all adventure destinations in Africa available to a wider public in a digital database.
Which is your best destination in the world?
My biggest dream would be to travel all natural and cultural UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world. As this is hardly possible, my choice would be – again – Egypt. It is mystic and mind boggling when you think what the ancient Egyptians were able to build about 5000 years ago.
Egypt is such a great example of ancient civilisations and their trade. There are also theories that Egypt was connected with other extraordinary World Heritage Sites in the World. So much still has to be explored and to be discovered.
How do you unwind?
I love to travel to outstanding tourist destinations, meet with friends, cooking, eating out, studying ancient civilisations, playing golf, diving, watching documentaries and news on several global televion channels.
Tourism as a catalyst for unity, growth, prosperity and job creation for the people of Africa.
To operate the African Tourism Board as an Africa driven global initiative to promote Africa’s as one tourism destination.
Interacting with source markets around the world and lobbying for removal of barriers in-between African tourist destinations are our key focus to achieve our vision in order for Africa to become one of the top leading tourism destinations in the world through integrated tourism development and marketing.
The responsible and sustainable socio-economic development and marketing of tourism on the African continent – in cooperation with the public and private sector and on an individual or collective basis – through:
The development of policies, white papers and strategies for tourism growth and development; Effective international marketing; Leadership development; Education, e-learning, skills development and capacity building; Conservancies establishments; Safety and security support; Infrastructure development (roads, air, communication, accommodation etc.and fundraising and investment facilitation.
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