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UJ’s Prof Tembi Tichaawa on the importance of quality local tourism research to grow tourism in Africa

The past two decades has seen a major transformation in higher education and learning. Primarily, this evolution has been in reaction to the need for increased African scholarship, the need to understand, and present the African context and follow the emerging debates around the dominant knowledge of production and its relevance to the African continent. Indeed, there is an urgent need to move away from Eurocentric knowledge production and a Eurocentric worldview, which prevails on the continent as a consequence of the region’s colonial past. This is according to Tembi Tichaawa, a Professor in Tourism at the University of Johannesburg (UJ).

“Additionally, it is essential to address and challenge the misconception of indigenous knowledge production as backwards, or primitive,” said Prof Tichaawa, when he delivered his professorial inauguration address, ‘Navigating the Journey of becoming an Africa Tourism Scholar‘.

Prof Tichaawa’s inaugural address took place in the University’s Council Chambers, Madibeng Building, Auckland Park Kingsway Campus on Monday, 16 August 2021.

He pointed out that to truly grow and develop tourism in Africa, it is crucial to understand how the sector works within the African context, taking into consideration its social, economic and political dimensions. Quality African-centered tourism research is therefore imperative to inform policy and development. “I pride myself on being an African scholar and contributing to the broadening of tourism knowledge on the continent whilst acknowledging the unique nature and characteristics of the continent.”

Addressing his first research theme reflecting on sport tourism, mega-events and legacy impacts, Prof Tichaawa explained that the FIFA World Cup hosted by South Africa was, and remains to date as, the first mega sport event hosted on the African continent and was conceptualized in order to bring in significant and much needed developmental benefits. The event, which was also coined “Africa’s World Cup”, had been set to positively position the continent to the rest of the world. At this time, sport tourism had been a relatively neglected field of study, with most of the research focusing on the developed Global North, He said.

Examining the field of business tourism within the African context, Prof Tichaawa stressed that in the context of Sub-Saharan Africa, business tourism constitutes an important segment of tourism, owing to its economic value and volume. However, the sector remains a neglected area of research with the few available business tourism studies centred on Western perspectives. “In this regard, business tourism is understood as being international travel for the purpose of attending meetings, conferences, conventions and exhibitions, or incentive trips.”

In his address, Prof Tichaawa stated that the emerging studies focusing on business tourism in Sub-Saharan Africa have suggested that the sector displays a different set of characteristics. These studies have argued that the Western concept of business tourism cannot be fully applied to African countries.

One of the questions explored is the fact that the Western concept of business tourism cannot be fully applied to African countries. The sector has an important domestic component, which is largely missing from international literature. Further, the study built on available scholarship, highlighting that the informal activities serve to drive the business tourism sector. Informal business tourism remains an important area to focus on, even during the period of COVID-19, since it supports over 50% of the livelihood activities of people in Africa, and as informal business tourism has been postulated to kick start domestic and regional travel.

Prof Tichaawa insists that the onset of COVID-19 and the subsequent impact on tourism, which had threatened the many African economies dependent on the industry, has led to major transformations and the rethinking of tourism development moving forward. “Presently, there has been an emergence of research focusing on understanding the impact of COVID-19 on tourism industries, with some examining specific sectors. While such studies are crucial in laying the foundations upon which tourism recovery (or rebuilding) can be understood, the pandemic has revealed the importance of understanding (and embedding) resilience within tourism systems.”

He concluded: In truly becoming an African Tourism scholar, one has to continue to do research that is insightful, impactful, and relevant to the strategy and policy environment in the Pan-African context. For the times in which we are living, this means that there is a need to conduct research which not only takes cognizance of the 4IR context but more pressingly, looks at the recovery of the tourism sector and its resilience.

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