Africa Travel Association’s 11th Cultural and Ecotourism Symposium Held in Djibouti

Djibouti’s brilliant sunshine and Indian Ocean breezes greeted some 200 attendees of the 11th Cultural and Ecotourism Symposium, held January 19-23 in the seaside capital, Djibouti City.

Sponsored by the Africa Travel Association (ATA), under the auspices of the Hon. Hassan Farah Miguil, Djibouti’s Minister of Youth, Sports, Recreation and Tourism, it was ATA’s first event there. Established in 1975 to promote tourism to the African continent, ATA aims “to bring the world to Africa, and Africa to the world,” and to spotlight its lesser-known countries.

“Ecotourism’s the world’s only industry that takes nothing but footprints and leaves dollars,” said ATA executive director Eddie Bergman.


, with a stable and growing economy, is positioning itself as the commercial and tourism gateway to East Africa. The symposium program featured ecotourism marketing and case studies as driving forces for responsible tourism.

“Ecotourism’s the world’s only industry that takes nothing but footprints and leaves dollars,” said ATA executive director Eddie Bergman, noting that tourism generates income and puts pressure on destinations to protect their treasures (i.e., patrimony conservation). “With tourism marketing, perception is reality… Djibouti’s a fascinating brand for the North American market, but it needs increased marketing to increase arrivals… that’s where the ATA synergy can help.”


’s president, H.E. Ismail Omar Guelleh, served as keynote speaker and he underscored his government’s current policy of identifying tourism as a major investment priority. Warning of challenges to African tourism’s economic and cultural roles, he cautioned, “It’s high time we transform our tourism into a community-benefiting, sustainable product…a barometer for systemic change.”

Hon. Mohammed Dirir

, Ethiopia’s tourism minister and ATA’s vice president, spoke on behalf of Hon. Stephen Asamoah-Boateng, Ghana’s tourism minister and ATA’s president in absentia. In his speech, he urged branding linkages, saying, “As an international exercise, tourism can’t be developed without interlinking packages—i.e., more intercountry railways and intra/intercontinental flights by African airlines connecting Africa to the rest of the world.”

S.E. Sheikh Bender Bin Farah Al Fahid

, Arab Tourism Organization president, described SaudiArabia’s current multimillion-dollar, cross-industry investment plans in Djibouti. “This illustrates our important recognition of Djibouti’s tourism development potential…and our confidence in Africa’s [tourism] as a whole,” he said.



’s tourism minister, Hon. Hassan Farah Miguil, announced that ecological and cultural tourism form integral parts of his government’s development plans. “While promoting and developing our extraordinary landscapes and island gems as ‘new’ tourism discoveries,” he said, “we must strike that ever-delicate balance of protecting our cultural patrimony, while working to alleviate poverty and develop sustainable tourism for surrounding communities.”

Lake Assal

Lake Assal is Africa's lowest point and the world's third-largest salt lake.

The session entitled “Economics of Travel Infrastructure: Transportation & Community Development” highlighted such successful ventures as a collaborative Djibouti/Port-Dubai project, stunningly illustrated by the symposium’s venue, the Djibouti Palace Kempinski Hotel. The $100 million resort was built for the November 2006 Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) meeting by Dubai World Africa Services (Pty). Luis Pinheiro, Dubai World’s director of hospitality operations, Africa & Indian Ocean, highlighted the company’s African projects, from the $3.5 billion earmarked for Djibouti’s port and infrastructure, to cross-continental development and conservation-partnership plans.

Delegates also enjoyed outings to shimmering LakeAssal (Africa’s lowest point and the world’s third largest salt lake) and MouchaIsland’s Blue Lagoon (where the Red Sea meets the Indian Ocean) for watersports and seafood sampling.

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