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A traveller’s dream to make intra-Africa travel easy

Saturday January 23 2021
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By Salome Gregory

There’s no doubt that Africa’s diversity makes it an interesting place to visit - and this is reiterated by 53-year old Leina Lemomo, a travel enthusiast who loves exploring Africa.

Her living room is filled with cultural souvenirs from all over the world, especially Africa - which paints a picture of her passion for travel since her childhood.

Leina was raised by a single parent, her father. When she was nine years old, she had already joined Girl Guides, a movement dedicated to training girls in good citizenship, good conduct and outdoor activities.

As a Girl Guide, Leina fell in love with the concept of adventures and travel when she explored neighbourhoods for camping.

When she turned 12, she was exposed to a whole new world of travel through a television screen.

Her father was a disciplined parent and only allowed certain television programmes for her and siblings to watch.

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One of the programmes that her father allowed was on travel titled ‘Transtel,’ aired on the DW Channel. She never missed it because it’s from those episodes that she learnt about other countries, their cultures and diversities.

Leina ‘travelled the world’ through that programme, and was able to tell all major tourist destinations of the world.

She has been in the travel and tourism industry for 20 years now, and founded ‘Msafiri Travels,’ a true reflection of her zeal for travel.


Covid-19: A bane turned boon

A key part of the African Union (AU) ‘Vision and Roadmap for the next 50 Years’ was that African nations were supposed to scrap visa requirements for all African citizens by 2018.

But, to-date, the Seychelles is the only nation where visa-free travel is open to all Africans.

Most Africans find it easier and more cost-effective to travel abroad than within their own continent.

There are several factors behind this glitch, however the main hindrance to intra-African travel is unfriendly visa conditions and highly-priced direct flights and hotel stay.

Last year when the travel and tourism industry was hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, African countries took a big blow because a majority of their tourists were from countries that faced lockdowns and complete shutdown of airports.

Leina and her business also took a hit. She suffered depression for a couple of months from being jobless and confined.

Just before the Covid-19 hit, she had invested a lot in one of her projects that she terms ‘major’. “Before the pandemic hit the country, I was away in Serengeti on a certain project.

When I came back to Dar es Salaam in March last year, the world had turned upside down, and virtually nothing was moving due to coronavirus. It felt as if everything was ruined,” says Leina.

But it wasn’t long before she realised that she needed to think outside the box and do something.


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It got her thinking on what could be done to make African travellers part and parcel of tourism activities within Africa... At least, to begin motivating them to travel within their own continent.

“Covid-19 was and still is a dark cloud in the tourism industry. But, it forced us to re-look and re-think how we do business. We have been doing business in one direction: the West. We never looked at an African as a traveller,” says Leina.

This made her come up with the idea of starting an alliance that would bring together African travellers and tourism stakeholders to discuss the challenges which hinder Africans from travelling within their own continent.

“Something came to mind, and I asked myself: why don’t we come up with a forum that was specific for the African traveller and try to encourage Africans to travel within Africa,” she recalls.

She says a majority of the people she approached opposed the idea, claiming that Africans don’t have money to spend on tourism.

But, about four people accepted the idea and decided to first do a survey on what stops Africans from traveling within Africa.


Why is it hard for Africans to travel within Africa?

A survey by Leina and her small team revealed that most of the information available about the tourism industry suits only foreignners, mostly Whites.

Africa is also expensive for African travellers as almost everything is paid for in US dollars.

A majority of the exchange rates of African currencies into dollars in different countries is high. Hence, it is very expensive for an African traveller to consider saving for a holiday.

Lack of education on how to save for a holiday is another challenge revealed by the research.

Some people do a lot of research before they decide if they will be able to travel or not.

Before they reach out to a travel agency, they would already have a lot of information in their hands on how they are going to travel, and how much it is likely to cost them.

“Each traveller is very unique - in the sense that they have specifics which they go for. Western tourists are very much interested in beaches and wildlife. The Chinese are interested in wildlife, while the Japanese opt for beaches. But you can hardly tell what an African tourist wants,” Leina marvels.

Other obstacles revealed by the research that contributes to the lack of African travellers inflows are strict visa conditions, expensive hotels as well as lack of, or costly, direct flights.

Another major challenge that Leina and her team found during the survey are the foreign rates charges on African travellers.


Solution

Leina realised that, for the past few months, tourism stakeholders in Africa only spoke on how to revive the business - and the talk mainly catered for ‘Western,’ not African, travellers.

That was when she came up with the association in the name and style of ‘Intra-Africa Tourism Alliance (I-ATA) whereby the number of travel influencers and stakeholders from Africa rose from 4 to 11 who agreed to come on-board and make the African’s dream to travel a reality.

“Africans are more social, and like to go where there is music, art, food, cultural experience - and a little bit of wildlife. So, festivals are a good match for Africans.

“After analysing the whole situation, that was why and how I-ATA was born,” Leina says.

Currently, Leina and her team are working with different African countries on having standard rates: special rates for African travellers.

This means negotiating with different hotels and other tourist spots to make sure that they accept rates that are reasonable for Africans so as to motivate them to travel within the continent.

“By the end of this month, we are going to have a list that consists of a series of trips across our continent, and try to get affordable rates from specific countries.

“Within the trips we are going to identify regarding events happening in the continent and we will be requesting special fares for African travellers,” Leina reveals.

The countries that Leina is aiming at are Tanzania, Namibia, Rwanda, Uganda , Zimbabwe, South Africa, Madagascar, Nigeria, Benin, Ghana, Kenya, Bostwana, Zambia, Senegal and the Diaspora.


What Leina envisions

With this new journey on which Leina has embarked, she realised that Africa has the biggest connections in the world.

It is the second continent that has half a billion internet users, and the fastest growing continent in terms of total population and economy.

“So, why don’t we use the opportunity to motivate people to travel within Africa?” Leina quizzes.

Adding to this, she says that, until now, much of Europe is still in lockdown mode, a situation that is challenging to travel.

But, most of the African countries are now open.

So, being able to introduce an African traveller in the tourism industry is a perfect match - and the time for it is now!

Leina says that, with the aim of easing the visa requirements for Africans, I-ATA is still looking to see what the government will do, as this requires a lot of processes and policies to be changed.

“The government is currently paying great attention to boosting domestic tourism.

As part of the plan, the name-change of Selous Game Reserve to Nyerere National Park is a clear indication that we are on the same track with the government, as the name-change brings in a sense of ownership,” Leina says.

Despite the hurdles that make travelling within Africa difficult for Africans, Leina is still optimistic that seamless travel within Africa - and the application of ‘African rates’ throughout the continent - will soon become a reality on the ground.