"Tourism is the largest voluntary transfer of resources from the rich to the not so rich in history," asserts a development expert who urged leading tourism players on the continent to ensure visitor revenues benefit African communities.

"Europeans and Americans take and leave more money in Africa than the US and European governments give in official aid," said Lelei LeLaulu, President of Counterpart International, as he prepares to speak to political leaders, the tourism industry and development professionals at the 33rd Annual African Travel Association Congress meeting which opened in Arusha, Tanzania today.

"At a time when a constricting global economy reduces international aid flows, African nations have a golden opportunity to harness the enormous power of the world's largest and fastest growing industry, tourism, to improve the health, wealth, environment and culture of their communities," he added.

LeLaulu, whose organization is a member of the Global Sustainable Tourism Alliance (GSTA) set up by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to use tourism as a development tool, lauded the Africa Travel Association for focusing its deliberations on community-benefit tourism.

"If it doesn't benefit communities then it's not sustainable tourism - and we all know how corrosive tourism can be if it's not sensible and rooted in communities," he mused.

Edward Bergman, Executive Director of the African Travel Association which is hosting the Arusha Congress, said, "Sustainable tourism will allow people to work with the natural resources in their countries, not against them."

The local communities will be able to capitalize on tourism because according to LeLaulu, "official aid helps governments with their important big ticket purchases while tourism offers direct benefit to people and their communities."

Tourism is Africa's fastest growing industry, which according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, attracted 44 million travelers to the continent in 2007.

For more than 42 years, Counterpart International has given people a voice in their own future through smart partnerships, offering options and access to tools for sustained social, economic and environmental development.

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