The UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) recently confirmed that Africa has been one of the fastest growing tourism regions of the last decade. Africa’s tourist numbers have risen from an estimated 37 million in 2003 to 58 million in 2009 according to UNWTO’s Secretary General Mr Taleb Rifai.
Africa’s tourism sector already employs around 7.7 million people. The tourism industry is vital to many economies in Africa. For example 30% of GDP in the Cape Verde Islands stems from tourism, 25% in Mauritius and 16% in the Gambia. The World Bank states that 8.9 %of GDP is from tourism in East Africa, 7.2 % in North Africa’s, 5.6% for West Africa’s and 3.9% of Southern Africa’s GDP.
However Africa has a large way to go before it increase it’s share on the global tourism market. There were 980 million international tourists in 2011, but just over 50 million of those arrived in Africa. In comparison to Europe’s 500 million this is a small piece of a very large and lucrative pie. According to UNWTO the top tourist destinations for international travellers in Africa are Egypt, South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia and Mauritius.
East Africa and in particular Kenya and Tanzania are hoping to increase their share of the sector along with countries such as Uganda and Rwanda. They are working together to promote East Africa as a tourist region and saving money whilst sharing resources for promotion.
A way to increase tourism to the area is to look beyond the standard holidays such as safari or cultural and become more creative. Different types of nature tourism would appeal to those who have already had a safari and are interested in returning but looking for something different this time. For example tracking mountain gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda has been hugely important to the local economies of these countries. Along with the Democractic Republic of Congo they raised $225 million dollars in tourism revenue from this activity in 2011. More tourists mean more money spent on hotels, restaurants, tour guides and souvenirs and the benefits ripple out across the economy.
Africa could definitely build on its festival circuit and increase its cultural tourism. It already has a very strong music festival reputation in West Africa and other areas, now they need to build on food festivals, film, literature and theatre. Places like Ethiopia with its fascinating mix of ancient history, religion, stunning scenery and food have started to build their tourism industry over the past decade or so and have recently been voted on of the world’s coolest holiday destinations.
Social networking and technology have played a vitally important role in raising awareness of destinations, for promotional and marketing work as well as making sales easier. Major investment in infrastructure is also needed as is an investment in boosting the domestic travel market within Africa. Tourism is playing a key role in the re-building of Africa’s economies and long may it continue.