Building Back African Travel: Two Women Leading Change
Pre-pandemic, travel represented 6.9 percent of the total GDP for the continent and nearly 25 million jobs in 2019 in Africa and the industry was on the rise. Like everywhere, the pandemic hit the sector hard, travel spending in Africa dropped suddenly by almost half in 2020. Due to reduced international travelers, Africa suffered disproportionately more job losses than other regions, contracting by nearly 30 percent–impacting about 7.2 million people. Nevertheless, women had been making strides and now are leading the way forward–organizing groups, bringing teens to the industry, and innovating offerings in the region. We spotlight two change-makers.
Amaka Amatokwu- Ndekwu
Born in Lagos Nigeria, Amaka was educated in Nigeria and the European School of Economics in London, United Kingdom, gaining further certifications from ESSEC, Lagos Business School and the Castell Project along the way. She began her hospitality career over ten years ago with the luxurious Protea Hotel Kuramo Waters now part of Marriott, then worked her way up with Best Western and ran a 94-room luxury hotel in Lagos for the Genesis Group. Since then Amaka’s professional journey has gone beyond operations to include advocacy, negotiations and sales, strategic planning, human capital development, training, women empowerment initiatives, and events in the hospitality and tourism industries. Splitting her time between the US and Nigeria, Amaka runs various programs promoting growth and development in Africa's hospitality and tourism industries. She is the Chairperson & Co-Founder of the African Association of Women in Tourism and Hospitality (AAWTH), as well as the Chairperson, Founder, and Past-President of The Women in Hospitality Nigeria (WIHN), which have helped women make strides in tourism businesses on the continent. She founded the prestigious Pyne Awards, which honors African hospitality and tourism pioneers.
When did you move to the US and what brought you to America?
I moved to America permanently six years ago when I found a love for me (in Ed Sheeran's voice). My husband is the reason I relocated to the United States of America permanently. Never intended to live here, but when you meet a man who checks all the important boxes, your plans change. Love has a way of altering the course of your life.
Now you split your time between the two continents, how exciting. Turning to Africa, experts are predicting lots of ‘bucket list’ trips and revenge travel as the pandemic fades, how do you see this impacting tourism to Africa in general and Nigeria specifically?
Yes, such prediction is advantageous for countries that use new strategies that maximize their tourism potential. In the past two decades, tourism has developed into a significant economic industry for the majority of African countries. Increased investment in product development and innovation, aggressive marketing, and business-friendly socio-political reforms have been made. I am pleased to see that a number of African countries recognize the tourism potential and have calculated the positive influence on their countries' GDP. Africa is a top tourist destination for a reason; there are so many breathtaking sights in Africa, and the continent is brimming with culture, creativity, and hospitality. As a result, I anticipate an increase in visitor numbers to African destinations.
Nigeria is more of a business tourism destination than a leisure destination. Our creative and entertainment industries have elevated us to unprecedented heights; however, there are ongoing attempts and initiatives to reposition and revitalize the country's tourism potential. The international community should keep an eye on Nigeria!
What do you hope to see change for African women as tourism rebuilds post-pandemic?
I hope to see increased opportunities for women from all countries to thrive and take the lead in discussions and activities aimed at reviving tourism. I am a firm advocate of gender equality in all industries, particularly tourism. Having said that, African women should also be provided with similar chances, not just in their home nations, but globally. We have a large number of dedicated and smart African women who also bring a wealth of expertise, experience, skills, and knowledge to the global tourism sector. We should be treated equally with our female counterparts from other continents. I expect to see more African executives in the C-suites of major hospitality corporations and global tourism organizations.
How do you feel organizing the tourism community, which you have been instrumental in doing, will help the industry move forward in Africa?
To develop as a tourism community, both the private and public sectors must be involved; this is applicable to all African countries. Tourism is a critical source of foreign money; it also has the ability to act as a development 'tool,' strengthening supplier networks, increasing local company productivity, creating jobs and income for women and youth. A sustainable tourism industry generates economic value while safeguarding cultural and natural resources.
Following conversations at several conferences about methods to revitalize and organize tourism communities and the sector, three distinct proposals can and should be embraced.
bolster visitor confidence
identify and monitor emerging market trends and demand drivers
commit to establishing a more resilient and inclusive tourism sector by capitalizing on renewed interest in sustainable development
Other critical areas of focus and strategy for the African tourism community to adopt include income recovery, operations reconstruction, rebranding their businesses to align with the new normal, rethinking their workforce (a critical component of tourism), and accelerating the adoption of digital solutions.
Jael Agyei Akyeampong
General Manager, RB Park-Hill Hotel
Raised in the UK but originally from Ghana, Jael has migrated back to her African roots. The 32-year old is currently the General Manager at RB Park-Hill Hotel, a new 35-room residential-style property with meeting space, pool, and rooftop bar located in a bustling area of Accra, the capital of Ghana. After graduating from The College of Haringey, Enfield, and North East London (CONEL), and a degree in International Hospitality Business Management from the University of Derby, Jael cut her teeth working for Marriott, first at JW Marriott Grosvenor House in Mayfair, London. Along the way, Jael has worked with travel agencies in the UK and Xstream Travel, USA, and moved to Ghana to help Marriott open a 208-room five-star hotel in Accra.
Passionate about inspiring, helping, and mentoring other women into leadership roles, Jael is the Director of Administration of AAWTH (African Association of Women in Tourism & Hospitality). She also recently established the Teen Tourism & Hospitality Club (TTHC) which aims to bring teenagers between the ages of 13-19 years together through mentorship, coaching, and to help them with their career paths.
And if that wasn’t enough, last year she started The Haven Honeymoon Concierge (Travel Agency). In 2021, she was nominated as the Rising Star for The Pyne Hospitality & Tourism Awards held in Nigeria and won the Most Admired Female Hospitality Professional (Hospitality Awards Ghana 21’). Jael Strives to mentor more women into tourism and hospitality leadership roles.
Let’s start with how do you juggle running a hotel, a travel agency, volunteering for AAWTH, and launching a program for teens?
Juggling so many things at once necessitates dedication and hard work. I become exhausted, but concentrating on the task and following my passion keeps me going. My workflow is aided by having a to-do list and setting goals.
You seem focused on building up tourism as a career for the youth of Africa, what has been your inspiration to set up the TTHC?
When I was younger, people told me hospitality wasn't a good career choice. I was recommended to pursue vocations such as nursing, medicine, and law. As I grew older, I realized that my passion was hospitality, so I decided to pursue it with the help of my family. This is exactly what many African teenagers face when they are forced to choose different paths due to a lack of jobs or someone to mentor and coach them in the right direction.
When I was younger, people told me hospitality wasn't a good career choice. I want to change that narrative.
TTHC is a club that strives to bring together teenagers, encourage them to pursue higher education in the tourism and hospitality industry, and give them the skills and knowledge to pursue a successful career. I want to promote the group in schools and raise awareness among parents. I want to be a role model for young people and help them develop a passion for the industry.
What opportunities do you see for teens in Africa as tourism rebuilds post-pandemic?
Tourism is gradually recovering following the pandemic, and it is critical to the country's future in terms of economic growth and employment generation. Many investors are establishing hotels in Africa, and there will be internships and training opportunities for teenagers. Most African countries, including Ghana, are now working to improve tourism within their borders. In the next few years, I believe there will be a significant change.
Who is the main traveler to Accra, and where do you see the most
potential for growth?
The majority of visitors to Accra are business people/investors or tourists. The “Year of Return” was adopted by Ghana's president, Nana Addo Dankwa Akuffo Addo, in 2019, while the “Beyond the Return” was implemented in 2021. These campaigns focus on diaspora descendants returning to Ghana and learning about the country's history. Ghana has unveiled a 15-year tourism plan that aims to double the number of tourists visiting the country from one million to eight million by 2027. In Ghana, there are many lovely sites to visit, and preserving our tourist landmarks and integrating our culture into all aspects of tourism would provide the greatest possibility for growth.