Guy Apan Johnson is acting Secretary General of Literacy, Traditional Craftsmanship and Tourism at the Ministry of Culture in Benin. He spoke to Prue Goredema of the eLearning Africa News Service about the country’s bid to boost its tourism sector – with eLearning leading the way.
The government of Benin has launched a strategic drive to grow its tourism sector, and plans are in place to turn the country’s fortunes around by 2025. Johnson says, “Our current economic model is generating little wealth, and we wish to become a centre of leisure and business tourism, turning Africa’s ‘Latin Quarter’ into the top destination and offering a range of cultural, historical and natural wonders.” This targeted move from a reliance on subsistence agriculture has a sound justification.
The global financial downturn notwithstanding, the tourism sector continues to thrive in countries that are finding innovative ways to make leisure lucrative. According to figures released by the World Tourism Organisation (WTO) in 2010, tourism accounted for 6.7% of GDP in Africa, and in Benin that figure was 2%. The WTO forecasts that by 2020, the number of international tourist arrivals worldwide will reach 1,6 billion, up from 700 million in 2000.
Because Benin wants a slice of this tourism pie, much investment is needed: not merely in infrastructural development at tourist attractions, but in training those who work in the tourism industry. Tourism accounts for 8% of jobs in Benin (Africa’s average is 7.6%; the world average is 4%). The Ministry of Culture has started presenting courses aimed at teaching those who work in the leisure and hospitality industry how to integrate modern ICTs into their activities. The first of these ICT and Tourism for Development courses was conducted over four days in December 2009 and was followed by another in February 2010. In each course, around twenty participants – amongst them hoteliers, tour guides, travel agents and administrators – learnt about how to turn ICTs into tools of profitability. Johnson explains, “The courses covered many topics including destination management, the role of public-private partnerships, electronic marketing and Web 2.0, data collection and of course, the all-important theme of sustainable tourism for development.”
Despite its relatively small size of approximately 110,000 square kilometres, Benin has an impressive array of tourist draw cards, amongst them several national parks, hills and forests classified as sacred and the magnificent cliffs and waterfalls within the Atacora mountain range. Other worthy stops include the Slave Route, forays into the traditional kingdoms with their varied cultural riches, monuments to former times, traditional crafts and lakeside villages, and of course no trip to Benin is complete without a sortie to a voodoo temple.
Ensuring that all these treasures are brought to greater international notice is a matter of upgrading facilities and also “upskilling” the personnel in the hospitality industry. Johnson says that funding for Benin’s big tourism adventure will partly come from the national budget. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has also committed its twenty-odd agencies to Benin’s tourism turn-around through a memorandum signed with the Ministry of Tourism. Johnson explains, “There are numerous hotels and resorts we have targeted for training programmes, and we are negotiating with our partners so that the courses can be conducted through existing training centres, universities and international organisations already involved in eLearning.”
Benin’s Ministry of Culture has embraced eLearning as a way to spruce up its fortunes, and thus the hosting of eLearning Africa in Cotonou could not have been timelier. “We’re pleased to have the chance to meet Africa’s top eLearning practitioners and to have the opportunity to join eLearning networks and attend demonstration sessions on the new tools and services available,” says Johnson. He is speaking, of course, of just a few of the major attractions at eLearning Africa, the Continent’s largest conference on ICT-enhanced education and training.
“I’m looking forward to presenting my perspectives and letting others know of the Benin initiative on eTourism and eLearning,” says Johnson. He adds emphatically, “Back in 2009, we had less than ideal conditions, and there was poor organisation [in the tourism sector], yet Benin’s tourism revenue was 58 billion CFA (about € 88,420,430) with 200,000 tourist arrivals. Just imagine what we can achieve once we’ve got our house in order!”