African nations are targeting growth through domestic and intercontinental travel as they look to recover from the collapse in international visitors due to Covid-19.

Ministers speaking on an African Tourism Board (ATB) roundtable held online this week agreed that African countries must cooperate more in response to the pandemic.

The roundtable was hosted by former UNWTO secretary general Dr Taleb Rifai in partnership with the Global Travel and Tourism Resilience Council and heard from the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) and World Health Organisation (WHO).

Countries that took part in the roundtable said the African continent needs better infrastructure to support travel between regions, saying it is often easier and cheaper to travel to Europe than it is within the continent.

They also said that other barriers, like visa rules and different Covid-19 protocols, need to be addressed to encourage more travel within Africa as well as domestically within countries.

South Africa remains closed to international arrivals, but since the full lockdown in March it has been re-opening its domestic tourism in phases and travel is now permitted between provinces.

Aneme Malan, deputy director general at the department for tourism said: “As South Africans we are pro working together. We have just finalised our tourism recovery strategy and the phases in that plan is the opening of the sector domestically and then moving regionally and internationally.

“One of the strategies of our recovery plan to make that more effective is the elimination or reduction of barriers. A challenge for us as a sector is to understand the new consumer we will have.

“We do believe the new customer is not going to be the same and their demands are not going to be the same as we are used to and we have to see how we diversify our products and our services, not only to respond to our domestic tourists but our regional and international tourists.”

Ismaila Dione, director of tourism regulation in Senegal’s Ministry of Tourism, said: “One of the lessons learned [from Covid-19] is we need to count on ourselves before we can count on others because the borders are closed and it’s only Senegal that can save Senegal and Africa that can save Africa.

“It’s important that we mobilise our own internal resources around our own developing objectives before we look to others for help. Senegal is a very dynamic country in terms of air transport and we have mobilised internal resources and counted on our citizens to relaunch tourism to focus on domestic.”

Nigeria will restart international flights on September 5 and is introducing a new visa on arrival to make the process of visiting less tortuous, said Alhaji Lai Mohammed, minister of information and culture, who described this as a “big step” in encouraging more regional tourism.

Lai Mohammed said the country is investing in transport projects to boost domestic and regional tourism: “We are improving our infrastructure, especially airports and roads. We believe that investing in infrastructure is key to boosting domestic tourism.”

Hamisi Andrea Kigwangala, minister of natural resources and tourism for Tanzania, said the country had been successful in combating Covid-19 and was open to visitors, but not having a national carrier made it difficult to establish direct international air links.

“The major challenge is interconnectivity when it comes to international flights,” he said. “We need to work closely together to see what we can do together to establish connectivity between our countries and between our regions so we can tap into the rapidly growing middle class in emerging economies in the African continent.

“Regional tourism can be one of the mainstays of African countries if we have proper infrastructure, if we work together and have bilateral agreements and we invest in our regional airlines.”

Tanzania considers potential for domestic tourism is limited, but the country is looking at reviving its national carrier so that it can bring in tourists on mid-range flights from countries such as Zimbabwe, Namibia and Burundi, Kigwangala said.

Cuthbert Ncube, ATB chairman, said: “For a long time Africa has had its story narrated by others. It has been labelled as a dark, poor, disease ridden continent, even today when it’s the least affected by Covid-19.

“The positive story ATB is creating is a strong voice, an African voice telling the African narrative. By opening up and facilitating domestic and inter-African travel the continent can double its current market share globally within the next five years.

“It’s our objective to turn the challenges we face around into opportunities and to ensure tourism is a sector that not just has great potential but that creates jobs and wealth for the majority of our populations.”