Atlanta has been promoted as a “gateway to Africa” for many years now.
Not only Andrew Young, former mayor and U.S. ambassador to the U.N., has been saying this, but former mayors Maynard Jackson and Bill Campbell also did.
Mr. Campbell even signed an agreement with the president of the West African country of Benin making its capital, Cotonou, a Sister City of Atlanta.
But Kasim Reed, Atlanta's new mayor who assumed office in January, was surprised to learn after a luncheon address at the World Trade Center Atlanta Sept. 15 that the West African country of Senegal had moved its tourism office to Atlanta from the Empire State Building in New York.
Following the mayor's address during which he promised to rebuild the city’s international affairs department, Aziz Gueye, the tourism office's director, rose from among the crowd of 80 or so guests to announce the move that took place late last year.
“We moved after 30 years in New York,” Mr. Gueye said. Somewhat startled, Mr. Reed quickly quipped that he would send a text message to inform New York’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg.
More seriously, he then welcomed Mr. Gueye and promised to meet with him later to give a proper welcome.
Two years ago, Mr. Gueye told GlobalAtlanta during an interview in the New York office that he was considering the move.
The plans finally materialized in September 2009 despite the cancellation of a Delta Air Lines Inc. nonstop flight from Atlanta to Dakar, Senegal’s capital, which had been one of the main incentives for the move.
At the time, Mr. Gueye made light of the cancellation. “They left us stranded here,” he told GlobalAtlanta. But he is most serious today about doing whatever is necessary to have the flight reinstated.
“It would be a tremendous benefit to have the Atlanta-Dakar flight,” he insists.
The flight cancellation aside, Mr. Gueye continues to be positive about the move because of Atlanta’s other attributes including the weather, the second largest Senegalese community in the U.S. behind New York and a large Africa-American community that Senegal is targeting for tourism.
Since arriving in Atlanta, Senegal’s minister of tourism and handicrafts, Thierno Lo, has visited the city twice, most recently in August. Ibrahima Sarr, general manager of Senegal’s National Tourism Promotion Agency, also visited a few weeks later.
During his visit, Mr. Sarr underscored the success of Senegal’s first tourism exhibition that was held in Dakar in May and during which Abdoulaye Wade, the country’s president, said that he supported the industry because of its potential for assisting economic development.
Mr. Wade said at the exhibition, which was attended by GlobalAtlanta, that until recently he hadn’t been convinced tourism was so important. He then added that he had changed his mind and that he would be certain tourism promotion received the necessary funds to be successful.
Mr. Lo met with Martin Luther King III, the eldest son of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., during his most recent visit. In a filmed interview, he told GlobalAtlanta that he wanted to meet with the civil rights leader’s son as a demonstration of solidarity with the values of his father.
He also met with local officials of the World Trade Center Atlanta and said that he was inspired to create a similar organization in Senegal with which to partner. And he visited Medshare, a nonprofit located in Decatur that distributes surplus medical supplies to underserved healthcare facilities in developing countries.
His second visit to Atlanta was part of a tour of the United States including Indianapolis, where he attended a national black arts festival and Chicago, where he accompanied his president, Mr. Wade, on a trade mission.
Mr. Lo said that Senegal was proactively reaching out to a younger generation of travelers and entrepreneurs, whom he considers more adventuresome than traditional tourists and more likely to be looking for business opportunities.
In addition to the wide variety of tourist initiatives including eco-tourism and religious tourism such as learning more about Islam, which is prevalent in Senegal, he said that “solidarity tourism” was important for the descendants of the African diaspora who want to trace the history of their forefathers.
One of Senegal’s main attractions is Goree Island, which was an outpost for slaves going to the Americas and the Caribbean.
Mr. Aziz may be reached by email at email@example.com