By Ronald Joshua | IDN-InDepthNews Analysis
ABIDJAN (IDN) - Africa has reason to rejoice at the fact that the flow of foreign tourists to the continent has quadrupled over a period of 15 years between 1990 and 2014. But as the bearer of the good news – a new report – warns, unless the African countries learn to appreciate the economic value of their wildlife and biodiversity, they would be in for trouble.
Not the least because the continent currently accounts only for 5.8% of the world’s incoming tourists and 3.5% of global revenue in the sector.
Highlighting the bright side, the report by the African Development Bank (AfDB) jointly with the New York University’s Africa House and the Africa Travel Association (ATA), finds that the number of international tourists visiting the continent swelled from just 17.4 million in 1990 to 65.3 million in 2014.
But keeping their feet on the ground, authors of the report entitled ‘Unlocking Africa’s Tourism Potential’ in the annual series, the Africa Tourism Monitor, point out that security issues have posed a serious 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 U.S. 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.
Nevertheless, the report finds that the North African countries topped the list of most-visited countries in Africa. Egypt experienced the strongest growth in the sector in 2014, with 454,000 more international arrivals than in 2013, an increase of 5% in just one year.
Second on the list was Morocco, which once again recorded more than 10 million incoming international tourists in 2014 – an increase of 236,000 when compared with the previous year.
Côte d’Ivoire in West Africa ranked third. The country has been experiencing a strong economic recovery. Although it recorded “only” 91,000 more international arrivals in 2014 than in 2013, this figure represents a 24% rise in just 12 months. This double-digit growth provides yet further evidence of the country’s vast tourism potential, says the report.
“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, “ says the report.
More tourists also mean more jobs. Across the continent, there were around 20 million people working directly or indirectly for the tourism industry. This means that the sector accounted 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 experienced particularly rapid growth and was expanding into new countries such as Mauritania, which has remained largely on the fringes. According to the report, it was Sub-Saharan Africa, rather than North Africa, that benefited most from the expansion of hotel chains and the corresponding increase in the number of available rooms.
Nigeria, the continent’s most populous country, came top of the rankings in this respect, followed by Egypt and Morocco. However, the biggest hotel development project in Sub-Saharan Africa could be found in Equatorial Guinea
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.
Simplifications of the visa system
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%.
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 report recalls that 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,” says the report.
The study 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. [IDN-InDepthNews – 15 January 2016]
Photo: Tumulus building at Maropeng, Cradle of Humankind, a World Heritage Site © South African Tourism
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