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WAEN holds West Africa eco-tourism summit in Banjul 

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By Tabora Bojang

The West Africa Ecotourism Network WAEN recently held its annual eco tourism summit in Banjul, the Gambia from 6-7 May 2024.

WAEN is a network of ecotourism stakeholders in West Africa which aims to harmonise and develop ecotourism efforts as a contributor to the comprehensive growth and welfare of the region. It visualises West Africa becoming a high quality ecotourism destination that contributes to the development of local communities, conservation of nature and the enhancement of local tourism livelihoods.

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The summit held at the Bakadaji Hotel attracted delegates ranging from ecotourism operators and managers to government and non governmental organisations and stakeholders associated with ecotourism from the West African subregion. 

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Addressing delegates at the opening ceremony graced by Gambia’s Minister of Tourism, WAEN CEO Ms Ola Wright said; “Today, we come together to celebrate those who are leading the way in sustainable travel and ecotourism initiatives. We applaud the efforts of individuals, organisations, and businesses that prioritise environmental conservation, community engagement, and cultural preservation in their endeavours. Throughout this event, we will have the opportunity to learn from each other, to share insights and best practices, and to forge partnerships that will further advance the cause of ecotourism. Together, we can inspire others to embrace a more sustainable approach to travel and to experience the world in a way that leaves a positive impact on both people and the planet.”

She encouraged delegates and participants to embrace this opportunity to not only deepen their understanding of ecotourism but also to become ambassadors for change in their respective communities. “Together, we can pave the way for a future where travel not only enriches our lives but also protects the precious ecosystems that make our planet  so extraordinary,”  Ms Wright added.

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Dr. Louise Twining-Ward from the World Bank which funded the event, reported despite the massive wealth of natural and cultural heritages in the region, it remains to reach its full potential when it comes to leveraging tourism as a hub for socio-economic development compatible with sustainable and conservation efforts.

She said West Africa has 29 UNESCO heritage sites and almost 2000 nationally protected areas that cover almost ten percent of the region, but its ecotourism visitations are nowhere near other regions.

“There is something missing, the numbers are missing and the impact is missing. Many of us have wonderful cultural and natural products but the region’s protected areas barely get 6000 visitors a year. It is not just the product, what is missing is organisation, the connection between those that have wonderful products to sell and the market. One of the best ways to bridge this gap is exchanging ideas and know-how between tourism operators on which markets to target, how to reach targets and how to reach the right markets and also implement sustainability practices. 

In his keynote address, Tourism Minister Abdoulie Jobe, described tourism as a major driver of the Gambian economy. He emphasised the need to adopt innovative approaches through the creation of an appropriate tourism ecosystem in terms of capacity building in critical skills and financial support to undertake sustainable ecotourism development.

Minister added that tourism is part of the Gambia government’s agenda to expand economic opportunities for all and committed to ensure Gambia thrives as an attractive destination of tourism.

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