ABIDJAN, Côte d’Ivoire – For the third year running, the African Development Bank (AfDB) has published the Africa Tourism Monitor, an annual report on the tourism industry in Africa. This year’s report, a joint publication by the AfDB, New York University’s Africa House and the Africa Travel Association (ATA), is entitled “Unlocking Africa’s Tourism Potential”.
The report offers a comprehensive overview of the tourism sector in Africa, focusing on both opportunities and challenges. It features facts, figures and contributions from key tourism players across the continent, with tour operators, experts and industry representatives shedding light on key issues via a series of case studies.
Strong growth reflected in figures
One of the key findings of the report, as indicated in its introduction, is that the tourism sector in Africa is growing. In 2014, a total of 65.3 million international tourists visited the continent – around 200,000 more than in 2013. Back in 1990, Africa welcomed just 17.4 million visitors from abroad. The sector has therefore quadrupled in size in less than 15 years.
According to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), Africa’s strong performance in 2014 (up 4%) makes it one of the world’s fastest-growing tourist destinations, second only to Southeast Asia (up 6%).
This influx of tourists means more money coming into the continent. In 2014, Africa recorded US $43.6 billion in revenue. According to the UK’s World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), the international tourism sector now accounts for 8.1% of Africa’s total GDP. More tourists also mean more jobs. Across the continent, there are around 20 million people working directly or indirectly for the tourism industry. This means that the sector accounts for 7.1% of all jobs in Africa. Jobs supported by the sector include guides, hotel staff, interpreters, aviation staff and small businesses. Yet the economic impact of tourism extends beyond job creation.
The hospitality sector is experiencing particularly rapid growth and is expanding into new countries such as Mauritania, which have, until now, remained largely on the fringes. According to the report, it is Sub-Saharan Africa, rather than North Africa, that is benefiting most from the expansion of hotel chains and the corresponding increase in the number of available rooms. Nigeria, the continent’s most populous country, comes top of the rankings in this respect, followed by Egypt and Morocco. However, the biggest hotel development project in Sub-Saharan Africa can be found in Equatorial Guinea, in the Grand Hotel Oyala Kempinski, which, when complete, will feature 451 rooms.
A wealth of attractions and initiatives
Africa boasts a rich variety of attractions that draw in tourists from around the world. The continent has a wealth of archaeological sites and historic monuments, such as pyramids (Egypt), cave churches (Ethiopia), Robben Island (South Africa), Gorée Island (Senegal) and cave paintings (Tassili N’Ajjer in Algeria and Tsodilo in Botswana). It is also a place of stunning landscapes and scenery, boasting attractions such as Victoria Falls, the Sahara, Namib and Kalahari deserts, picturesque coastlines, mountains, plains, tropical rainforests and bush ecosystems – home to exceptional plants and wildlife and flourishing small businesses.
Recent years have seen the launch of numerous initiatives, across the continent, to attract more tourists. The report is particularly complimentary about recent simplifications to the visa system and regional cooperation mechanisms, including the introduction of the e-visa and the single visa scheme, enabling tourists to visit all Southern African Development Community (SADC) member states using just one visa. Other examples include the “KAZA” (Kavango Zambezi) common tourist visa developed by Zambia and Zimbabwe, and the single visa covering three countries (Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda) launched by the East African Community (EAC) in February 2014. According to the report, these visa simplification schemes and initiatives could boost tourism revenue and job creation by between 5% and 25%.
Vast potential yet to be fully exploited
Transport infrastructure and services is one of the key constraints limiting growth of the tourism sector. As the report indicates, “Journeys in the African continent are not always seamless”. In fact, it is more difficult – and more expensive – to travel across Africa than to get there from Europe, America or the Middle East.
The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) launched its Tourism Action Plan back in 2004, with a view to developing sustainable tourism. This followed the ratification, in 2000, of the Yamoussoukro Decision (named after the city in Côte d’Ivoire where it was adopted in 1999), which aimed to open up the continent’s aviation sector to competition. More than a decade on, however, neither initiative has been fully implemented. Yet effective application of the Yamoussoukro Decision, also known as “Open Skies for Africa”, would alone create 155,000 new jobs and contribute US $1.3 billion to the continent’s GDP.
The report also points to other barriers to tourism sector development in Africa, including a lack of dedicated incentive policies, the need for closer regional cooperation, weaknesses in infrastructure and security problems.
Security issues have posed a particular problem for the sector since 2013, especially in North Africa, Mali and coastal regions of Kenya. The report indicates that, of the 80 countries for which travel warnings were issued by the US State Department, 30 were located in Africa. Moreover, although the 2013-2014 Ebola virus outbreak only affected West Africa, it created a climate of fear that spread to many other countries on the continent – even those far from the source of the outbreak.
Many of Africa’s iconic species – animals that attract tourists from across the globe – are on the brink of extinction. According to the report, poaching and the illegal trade in protected species have reached unprecedented levels. The authors call on African countries to recognise the economic value of their wildlife and to strengthen data production capacities in this area. The report goes on to explain that, as well as their effect on the economy, these illegal activities also have a damaging impact on biodiversity.
Although international tourism is on the rise in Africa, the continent currently accounts for just 5.8% of the world’s incoming tourists and 3.5% of global revenue in the sector. As such, the sector still has vast untapped potential – potential that, if exploited, could kick-start rapid economic growth.