Editor's Note: Gateway is a Skift series featuring first-hand, original stories from our correspondents embedded in cities around the world. The logo reflects where the correspondent is based and not necessarily the article's focus. Read about the series here.

Africa recorded just 62 million international arrivals in 2017, an 8 percent increase from the year before. But that was still less than one-tenth of Europe’s 672 million visitors last year, according to the World Tourism Organization,

While there’s good marketing work being done to grow that figure, particularly by the private sector, the launch of the African Tourism Board later this year by the International Coalition of Tourism Partners (ICTP) aims to create a unified voice for marketing the continent abroad. And, ultimately, drive up visitor numbers.

“We want to bring the various established players in the industry together, and to help them work together,” explained Juergen Steinmetz, chairman of the ICTP. “In Africa you have a lot of organizations doing good work, but there’s no structure to what they’re doing.”

Going forward, Steinmetz sees the members of the African Tourism Board collaborating on international road shows and marketing initiatives, and giving tourism bodies and industry players a voice at events where they may otherwise be drowned out.

“At (trade show) ITB everyone is there, at WTM (World Travel Market) everyone is there. But if you look at shows like IMEX in Las Vegas, an individual country would just disappear, or not be present at all. We think there is opportunity for our future members to participate,” said Steinmetz, who is adamant that the ATB won’t overlap with the work being done by existing tourism organizations. “We don’t want to compete, we want to complement.”

While a united front sounds good in theory, any new structure will also need to recognize the enormous diversity in both tourism product and infrastructure across the continent.

“If its role is to promote inbound travel to Africa … this would not be an easy task because each country has different source markets, levels of development and tourism experiences,” added Natalia Rosa, director of Cape Town-based tourism marketing agency Big Ambitions.

Though Steinmetz declines to name which countries have indicated their support, “there has been a positive response from both government ministries and private industry. There are a number of tourism boards in all parts of Africa that want to be part of it.”

However, a number of regional and national tourism bodies contacted by Skift had no knowledge of the initiative, and highlighted the cost of inclusion as a key consideration to future membership.

“There is certainly merit in being part of a bigger agenda,” said Thembi Kunene-Msimang, acting chief executive officer of the Regional Tourism Organisation of Southern Africa (RETOSA), which represents 14 national tourism organizations in sub-Saharan Africa. “The issue would be about cost, and what the benefits are of that membership.”

Right now the approach seems to be a means-based membership fee to cover basic administration, with ongoing stand-alone projects that members can choose to participate in according to their own financial situation; a ‘pay-to-play’ for road shows, international trade exhibitions and targeted lobbying.

In the end, it’ll come down to numbers, and ensuring the African Tourism Board is a truly pan-African organization. If the tortuous process of achieving “open skies” in Africa is anything to go by, protectionism and self-interest may stymie any plans, however well-intentioned, to bring the African tourism industry together.

“If just a few African countries are willing to sign on the dotted line, and put their money where their mouth is, it’s dead in the water,” said Rosa. “There has to be a collective willingness to work together, and getting 54 countries to sing off the same hymn sheet, as history has shown, takes a long time.”

There’s an old is a saying in southern Africa: “umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu.” A person is a person through persons. We are who we are because of others. Will that sense of collectivism ring true for the fledgling African Tourism Board? The jury’s still out.

Photo Credit: A harbor in the Western Cape province of South Africa is pictured. A new pan-African tourism initiative is trying to grow the number of tourists to the continent. Marc Cooper / Flickr