In DepthEditorialTourism and its potential in Africa

Mon,11Dec2017

Tourism and its potential in Africa

By Robert Clarke- Paris

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Africa now accounts for a small part of the world’s tourism market, and policymakers from South Africa to the Seychelles want to change that

Tourism delivers jobs, something African countries need above all else if they are to make a success of their growing demographics. So how is the continent faring? It is improving but is far from reaching its potential, according to a 2016 United Nations World Tourism Organisation report. The continent of Africa recorded 53.5 million international tourist arrivals in 2015, up from 50.4 million in 2010, but was still slightly lower than 2014’s 55.3 million. The continent secured $33bn in tourism receipts in 2015, with 3% of global market share in terms of revenue and 5% in terms of tourist numbers. Compared with France’s 84.5 million visitors in 2015, the potential for growth in African tourism is clear. 

Africa’s leading lights are investing in both their hosting infrastructure and their marketing campaigns. They are clearly seeing the payback, and South Africa remains the continent’s heavyweight. "Tourism contributed 3% to the increase of nominal gross domestic product (GDP) growth in 2016 and created 575,000 new jobs in 2015 and 730,000 in 2016," says Bashni Muthaya, the regional director for southern Europe for South African Tourism. With 70% of South Africa’s tourists coming from mainland Africa, "Africa's tourism markets are essential to South Africa's national development plan", says Muthaya. 

Proportionately, tourism plays a much bigger role in some of the continent’s smaller countries. In Seychelles, for example, “tourism accounts for 60% of GDP", says Sherin Naiken, the chief executive of the Seychelles Tourism Board. The Seychelles is marketing itself as the "purest and most uncommercialised destination in the world", says Naiken. Tourism accounts for more than 70% of employment for the population of about 90,000 people. Last year, the island received 300,000 international tourists to its 115 islands.

In Kenya, hit by fears of terror attacks since the killings at the Westgate mall in Nairobi in 2013, growth in the tourism market is returning gradually. "Terrorism has cost us a great deal, but we are recovering and assuring our partners and clients that Kenya is safe to travel to. We have so much to offer as a country. And we will continue to build public trust that Kenya is indeed safe to visit," says Salma Ahmed, Kenya’s ambassador to France.

She explains some of the government’s priorities for the sector: "We do provide trainings and support to small and medium-sized enterprises every year. We do this to build an active tourism market at home and to be able to easily market Kenya's tourism abroad. And this is another mean by which we can create jobs for the youth.” 

The new Chinese-backed railroad that connects Mombasa to Nairobi may help tourism too. The railroad – which will continue its route to neighboring Uganda and Rwanda – will improve trade and access to markets between these countries. "The railroad being built by our Chinese partners is definitely going to incentivise rapid economic development," says Ahmed. 

Post-war Liberia has its own challenges to the growth of tourism, especially after the 2013 Ebola outbreak. The lack of infrastructure and other problems, have kept international visitor numbers low. Actors in the sector, however, are optimistic. "Tourism holds great potential not only for Liberia, but for the entire African continent,” says Chiquita Afuluenu, founder of West Tourism Management in Liberia. “We are committed to the task of growing our tourism sector through partnerships," she adds. Indeed, Liberia's tourism sector could use some joint ventures, especially with international tourism markets to drive their tourism agenda at home. Currently, France, Great Britain, the United States and China are the sources of the largest numbers of tourists visiting the continent.

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