Tapping Africa’s tourism gold mine

The future of tourism in Africa holds great potential, but its expansion and development depends on better transport infrastructure – including airline connections, roads and railways – in addition to open borders, and improved marketing to niche sectors such as adventure and eco-travellers.

The potential of Africa’s tourism is untapped, writes Mthuli Ncube, African Development Bank Group Vice-President and Chief Economist, in the foreword of the inaugural issue of the Africa Tourism Monitor, a joint initiative produced by the African Development Bank in partnership with the Africa Travel Association and Africa House at NYU.

“While Africa accounts for 15% of the world population, it receives only about 3% of world tourism,” writes Ncube. “To maximize Africa’s tourism potential, critical investments are needed in key infrastructure sectors (e.g. transport, energy, water and telecommunications).”

Africa is home to some of the fastest-growing economies, and revenues from tourism in Africa already represent more than double the amount of donor aid. Tremendous opportunities exist to further expand tourism across the African continent, yet challenges remain. The need for solid infrastructure, in the form of good roads and transportation corridors, for better airline connections, and fewer visas to cross African borders are just a few of the reasons Africa’s tourism sector has not taken off.

According to the United Nations World Tourism Association, 63.6 million international tourists arrived in Africa in 2012, compared to 17.4 million visitors in 1990. The top six countries for international tourist receipts in 2012 were, in descending order: Egypt ($9.94 billion), followed by South Africa ($9.994 billion), Morocco ($6.711 billion), Tunisia ($2.183 billion), Tanzania ($1.564 billion) and Mauritius ($1.477 billion).

The economic potential of tourism is remarkable, with direct and indirect impact on employment. In Africa alone, travel and tourism generated 8.2 million direct jobs in 2012. Africa is home to the world’s youngest population, with close to 70% of its population below the age of 25, and youth constituting about 37% of the labour force, but making up approximately 60% of unemployment. For this reason, the AfDB aims to promote tourism through the development of cross-border infrastructure and regional transport corridors, which will facilitated the movement of people and goods on the continent.

Africa’s future looks bright given the huge growth in adventure and eco-tourism, coupled with the continent’s rich cultural heritage and natural beauty. Already, several airlines from the United States, Africa, Europe and the Middle East have plans to expand their routes. Soon those untouched beaches and remote villages will become a thing of the past.



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