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By R.S. Mracky- ATA Member since 1982, former Ambassador-at-Large, Member of the International Board of Directors, So-Cal Chapter President, currently serving on the ATA International Advisory Council. 


Post-colonialism tourism in the 1960’s and 1970’s was not leisure tourism, as we know it today. Rather, it was the exodus transportation of the former colonists back to their countries of origin, leaving on-the-ground tourist services of the newly independent states in shambles. 


There were exceptions: Kenya hunting safaris continued and the incoming operators remained as a cohesive sector. South Africa and the country’s then-still colonized neighbors – known today as Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana – also had a functioning hunting safari industry. Hunting safaris, with the “Big Five” were the primary appeal of Africa through the 1970’s.


During this decade, tourism to Africa continued to be the primary domain of the glitterati, Hollywood film stars, crowned heads of Europe, and “Big Five” hunters. However the 1970’s also saw changes in the public’s attitude to long-haul leisure travel. A Roper/ASW survey in the United States asked, what was “the one thing you dream about doing?” – An African safari came in as #1 for men and #6 for women.


It is important to remember that the concepts of conservation, preservation, and ecology were just beginning to develop at this time. The “green movement” in the United States and in the United Kingdom—with the work of organizations as the Africa Wildlife Foundation (AWF) and the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) – were just beginning to bring the concept of wildlife conservation to the forefront of Africa tourism. This was a new marketing phenomenon that the industry and governments needed to deal with.



Setting up the Africa Travel AssociationIn 1975, the Africa Travel Association (ATA) was established as an international non-profit, non-political, educational trade organization in New York by a group of travel and airline executives. The group was headed by a travel agent from Brighton Beach New York named Murray Vidockler, who saw the need to help the young African nations with shaping their tourism capabilities and building their credentials. ATA helped them establish National Tourist Boards, providing a forum for the learning and professional development of Africa travel agents and tour operators knowledge, and helping establish incoming operators in Africa.

ATA invests in Africa’s tourism, bringing international industry updates to incoming tour operators and small-scale tourism businesses in North America and around the world with networking events, educational seminars, and most importantly consumer and travel trade shows. In the U.S. alone, over a quarter million prospect tourists are exposed to the Africa tourism assets face-to-face by ATA members. With the U.S., Canadian and the world press/media, ATA works to expound the good side of Africa news, and to report on the development of tourism projects and destinations.

The primary objectives of ATA are to promote the tourism attractions of the African continent and to educate travel agents, meeting and conference planners and incentive companies about products and services offered by Africa’s tourism industry, plus help identify new tourism products and destinations for the benefit of the local populations and the international travel industry.



ATA’s economic contribution to Africa is profound. From practically no contribution by international tourism to the African economies in 1975, the present international tourism contribution to Africa surpasses the combined total of tourism to the Caribbean, Central and South America.

On a person-to-person level, every dollar spent in Africa by an ATA member’s client is maximized 3 to 4 times by the “multiplier effect.” More specifically, a tourist sent to Africa by an ATA member spends a dollar on a souvenir. The artisan then goes and spends what s/he needs for the souvenir from a merchant. The merchant uses that dollar to buy produce from the local farmer, and so on and so on. That is direct income in the hands of the people!.

So, a typical ATA client spends $50 on souvenirs during their Africa visit; this money goes directly into the local economy. When multiplied, it becomes $150 or more—much more than most individual charitable donations that are made to Africa. That means that each African trip sold in the U.S. and elsewhere generates person-to-person economic growth.

ATA is one of the very few non-profit associations that generate socio economic benefits on both sides of the Atlantic –the governments and local populations in Africa and the travel and tour industry in North America.



Here are some additional reasons why ATA is important:

Established in 1975, ATA become the first Africa-specific professional travel and tourism association. Since then, ATA’s marketing programs have created global awareness of Destinations and the continent’s product diversity. They have also helped many African-based incoming operators to become international tour companies.

ATA introduced travel and tourism conferences to Africa with the first-ever Africa International Tourism Congress in 1976 where professionals were able to meet and discuss tourism with a large percentage of the new countries and their Ministers. 34 years later, ATA just completed its 35th Congress in The Gambia with 300 attending delegates (40% international and 60% Africa-based), with a full mix of government and private sector professionals, including representatives of the African Union (AU), UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and the World Bank. ATA Congresses are not “sales events” they are policy and agenda-shaping meetings where professionals network to create the face-to-face relationships that the international tourism industry depends and is based upon.

Since 1975, ATA through its membership have encouraged and mobilized major international tour operators to include Africa in their product offerings – from Nile cruises to West Africa’s heritage credentials.

ATA has helped many travel agent and travel agency members grow into some of today’s major Africa tour operators in North America. The same can be said with airlines, cruise lines and major international hotel chains.

In 1992, at its 25th Congress, ATA had the Ministers of 24 countries adopted Africa’s Eco-Tourism Manifesto which established the eco-tourism basis for Africa destination travel and operators. ATA is an industry partner in the “Green Globe” program of the World Travel Organization (WTO) and has been the primary force in having the Africa tourism industry and their governments adopt sustainable tourism policies.

ATA is the only tourism organization that has Africa’s Ministers of Tourism on its Board of Directors and serving as Presidents of the Association.

During South Africa’s apartheid rule a quandary over the importance of tourism as an economic and political tool supported by the regime developed. As a member of WTO, which dropped South Africa as a member, and in light of the 1986 US Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act, the ATA Board moved to discontinue South Africa’s ATA membership. ATA formally supported the anti-apartheid efforts. The core ATA members stopped selling South Africa as a destination, including the new country of Bophuthatswana, devised by the apartheid regime to bypass the international travel embargo. The ATA action measurably helped to turn the economic and political tide and bring freedom to South Africa. It has been this ATA Board action that has made some in the travel industry place the “political” label on ATA, a label that ATA is proud to carry.

At ATA’s 17th Annual International Congress, held in Abidjan, Code d’Ivoire, the ATA board of directors approved a resolution “to delete a provision within the qualifications for membership that had precluded the membership of South Africa” with ATA’s President noting: “We are pleased to adopt initiatives that will forge new ties between South Africa, now undergoing sweeping changes, and to welcome this major country into the exciting world of African Tourism”.

In the area of marketing, Southern California ATA Chapter is a classic case of ATA’s value. Southern California, as a source market to all African destinations, accounts for the largest percentage of any other U.S. market area. The reason is that since 1976, when SoCal/ATA was established, the Chapter has spawned many of today’s leading Africa tour operators; and, through its outreach educational and marketing programs, has taught the front-line travel agents in selling Africa—making Southern California the principal U.S. source market for Africa. Tanzania receives over 50%; and Egypt receives 27% of their US leisure visitors from the SoCal/ATA market.

ATA’s participation in all the major North American consumer travel shows means that ATA members can reach over quarter million Africa travel prospects, providing unprecedented exposure to Africa destinations and ATA Africa members.

ATA is the only Africa-focused organization spanning the three important sectors in Africa’s economic development – the governments, the private sector and civil society. It hosts the now labeled “important” Presidential Forums on Tourism in New York. This meeting has put tourism on the agendas of Africa’s Heads of States when they attend the annual UN General Assembly meetings. In 2010, more than 300 participants attended the Forum with ten African leaders.

To promote investments and financial support for tourism in Africa and to advocate for tourism to Africa, ATA inaugurated in 2008 yearly Washington D.C. symposia that attracts the World Bank, IMF, and the important elements of the U.S. government, as well as the international investment community.

And, finally, ATA’s work and accomplishments since 1975 with many African governments has led the African Union (AU), the government body of 54 African nations, to form an AU/ATA alliance for the growth and promotion of tourism to Africa, making ATA the principal and official driving force in Africa’s tourism development. The idea here is that regions around the world have established effective regional tourism bodies, like the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) for Asia and the Caribbean Tourism Organization for the Caribbean. The Africa Travel Association serves as the global tourism body representing the tourism development and world presence of the Continent of Africa.

In cooperation with the African Union