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The 41st Annual World Tourism Conference opened in Kigali, Rwanda today with a call from President Paul Kagame for African countries to take advantage of new technologies particularly innovative digital platforms to develop the tourism sector.

Speaking when he officially opened the conference, President Kagame said African countries should be ready to partner with technology companies and work regionally to take the tourism industry to greater heights. He added that a lot can be achieved if key decisions are implemented to facilitate cooperation and investment in the tourism sector.

The President cited the East African region as one that has made good progress in collaborating as one bloc and taking tangible steps to increase tourism levels.

“We in the East African Community have tried to make free movement possible and it is already a reality by introducing a single tourism visa, passport free travel within this region and visa on arrival,” the President Kagame said. “We however need more cooperation in the continent to increase the number of visitors to facilitate trade and investment.”

The Head of State also appealed to African governments to open their skies for more international airlines.

Meanwhile, the COMESA Business Council (CBC) will this week launch a regional tourism and wildlife heritage handbook to promote COMESA as a single tourist and wildlife destination. The handbook will be launched during the conference.

The handbook, which will be the first of its kind for the region, will help raise awareness on sustainable tourism and wildlife conservation in the bloc.

The publications it titled ‘The COMESA Tourism and Wildlife Heritage Handbook’ with the theme “Single Market – Countless destinations” and features all the 19 COMESA countries showcasing the different tourism and wildlife products in the region.

This initiative is also meant to promote cross border linkages and partnerships between various stakeholders in the tourism industry in COMESA, it will be used to advocate for responsible business practices towards environmental sustainability with regards to tourism in the region.

Speaking ahead of the conference, CBC Chief Executive Officer Ms. Sandra Uwera said: “This handbook provides tourists coming to COMESA a way to make their adventures more exciting, a taste of what to look for when they visit the COMESA region.”

The handbook is part of the COMESA Sustainable Tourism Development Strategic Framework which has been recognized by Member States as a model to develop national tourism action plans to boost competitiveness of the sector.

The 41st World Tourism Conference was attended by Ministers of Tourism from some African countries, the Secretary General of UNCTAD Dr Mukhisa Kituyi and Corporate Council of Africa Chief Executive Officer Ms Florizelle Liser. The Chair of the COMESA Business Council Dr Amany Asfour led the COMESA team to the Conference.