First Ghana, then Angola and now Ethiopia. London based World Tourism Forum is definitely focused in Africa. Dedicated to “research and development of solutions to the new era of travel”, the forum promotes international meetings with influential people and plays a leading role in attracting foreign direct investment, identifying business opportunities, promoting strategic events and lending to foreign investors willing to allocate resources in target country.
Bulut Bağcı is the face of Forum, which he created in 2014 (yes, he did it himself), as a founder and president of the institution, but mainly as a businessman with a vision: tourism can reshape economies. Born in 1985, in Turkey, and graduated from Tourism Administration, he is a citizen of the world, collecting experiences and sharing it by… posting, posting and posting. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and a blog – Mr Bağcı is a digital native. And between the travels and the posts, we had a chance to catch up with him.
Nilza Rodrigues: First of all, thank you for accepting this interview. Once you’ve said that the future of tourism is Africa as “the future of the world is in Africa”. How do you see this development in a continent with such big infrastructural and social challenges?
Bulut Bağcı: Well, when talking about the future, Africa is one continent that comes to mind, be it for its economy, society or people. Why do we say so? Let’s start by talking about the people – Africa currently has the highest population growth rates in the world. As of 2018, about 17% of the world’s population comes from Africa, and it was estimated that by 2050, this number would increase to 21%. Over the past 30 years, the population in Africa has doubled, and this growth is expected to continue exponentially.
With an increase like this comes responsibility. With a continent filled with young people and seniors, the economy needs to find a way to support this growth. But many countries in Africa don’t have the means to meet those needs, like building infrastructures to enable the growth of the economy; therefore this opens an opportunity for significant investment with enormous social returns.
We know that countries in Africa are on different economic development trajectories. Moreover, we cannot generalize continent-wide when speaking of what blend of services, manufacturing and agribusiness Africa’s future economies will comprise. That mix will vary from country to country, from sub-region to sub-region.
Nilza Rodrigues: I see, and with your experience and know-how, how can we change the perception of Africa? Imagine yourself with that power in your hands, where would you start?
Bulut Bağcı: Perceptions are very powerful. In fact, they can be more powerful and far more influential than reality. Why are there a lot of misconceptions, flawed perceptions and negative stereotypes about Africa? In fact, some of these perceptions are not just sad, they’re downright shocking. You see, the largely negative portrayal of Africa by the mainstream media as plagued by disease, poverty, conflict and “backwardness” is intentional because it has more shock value and gets more attention from those who don’t really know the continent.
As you would expect, these negative stereotypes of Africa have serious consequences for the continent. A lot of people outside Africa — and a lot of people within it — don’t understand the size, scale and diversity of the continent. For example, a lot of people don’t realise that Africa is a massive continent in geographic terms, and it’s actually naive to make sweeping generalisations about Africa. Our motto is “Reshaping Economies Through Tourism”. Tourism is very important. Tourism development is the best way to market a country.
The main economic advantage of tourism-related activities is that they contribute to developing countries’ three high-priority goals: income generation, jobs and foreign exchange earnings. The tourism sector will play an important role in this regard as a driving force for economic development in Africa.
Nilza Rodrigues: Can we talk about two “Africas” when we talk about tourism? One more developed and open to the world and another still in the preliminaries?
Bulut Bağcı: Yes, sure. But as World Tourism Forum, our main aim is to help the development of the whole continent through our actions in different countries of Africa.
Nilza Rodrigues: Ghana was the first African country to host the World Tourism Forum. You classified the country as a role model, as an example to follow, why?
Bulut Bağcı: There was a reversal in the trend in the mid-1980s when Ghana embarked on a new development strategy of economic liberalisation. Economic growth improved considerably. Ghana’s political reforms have reinforced the “role model” status and somewhat established its image as a leader for political change on the African continent. However, there is more than one “role model” country in Africa today.
Nilza Rodrigues: From Ghana to Angola. And from there came good news as the Fund invests, over the next five years, US$1B in the local sector. Who will manage this fund and how will it be distributed?
Bulut Bağcı: We are working together with the governments, public and private sectors of the countries to manage the investments attracted in the host countries of our meetings.
Nilza Rodrigues: You’ve also commented that Angola could become Africa’s Dubai in ten years. It’s an interesting sight, but hard to imagine so far…
Bulut Bağcı: Angola has a huge tourism potential. With the investments we have driven to the country and, of course, with the help of oil reserves, Angola will be the tourism paradise of the continent.
Nilza Rodrigues: 2020, Three goals for Africa, please.
Bulut Bağcı: I would say: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth through tourism, full and productive employment and decent work for all;
Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation;
Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development.