Tourism has enormous potential to transform lives, particularly in terms of job creation and human development. In 2013 alone, the African continent welcomed 65 million visitors. By 2030, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) projects that Africa’s international tourist arrivals will rise to 134 million, an increase of 106%. In the latest issue of the Africa Tourism Monitor, a joint publication produced annually by the African Development Bank (AfDB), New York University’s Africa House and the Africa Travel Association (ATA), the focus is on Africa’s greatest asset: its people.
“If you look at the heart of Africa, the continent’s greatest tourism assets are its people, its humanity, and its warm hospitality,” writes Walter Mzembi, Zimbabwe’s Minister of Tourism and Hospitality Industry and ATA President (2012-2014), in the 2014 publication. “The African tradition of hospitality, eagerness to learn and share knowledge, zeal to contribute, desire for peace, and enthusiasm to relate meaningfully to other cultures, are all positive attributes which indicate deep humaneness.”
According to the World Bank, the number of visitors to the African continent rose by 300% between 1990 and 2012. The top five African countries for international arrivals in 2013 were, in descending order: Morocco, Egypt, South Africa, Tunisia and Zimbabwe. Most international tourist arrivals come from Europe, with Asia and the Pacific in second place, and North American tourists ranking third.
Sixty-five million visitors can’t be wrong. A vast land mass covering 30.2 million square kilometres, made up of 54 countries, “Africa is one of the world’s most dynamic travel destinations for tourists seeking adventure, exceptional cultural exchange and heritage tours, diverse culinary experiences, unparalleled safari and wildlife opportunities, first-class beaches and a wealth of investment opportunities,” according to ATA.
“Tourism, as one of the fastest-growing and most dynamic sectors, has tremendous potential to boost inclusive economic growth across the continent and reduce poverty,” Charles Leyeka Lufumpa, Director of the Statistics Department at the AfDB, writes in the foreword. “The tourism sector has a vital role to play, opening up lesser developed rural areas, creating job opportunities, and engaging local communities to enlist their participation.”
Today, Africa’s tourism industry directly employs about 8.2 million people, representing 5.3% of the workforce in North Africa and 2.4% in Sub-Saharan Africa. According to World Bank estimates, the tourism industry could add 3.8 million jobs over the next 10 years. With the number of youths in Africa set to double by 2045, tourism has the potential to create much-needed stable jobs.
Challenges to developing the tourism sector remain, however. Tourism infrastructure is still lacking, making travel within the continent a challenge. In addition, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has had a notable impact on travel and tourism across the continent. The Africa tourism industry is experiencing severe repercussions across the continent in the form of economic losses, canceled flights and hotel bookings, closed borders and negative perceptions.
“This devastating humanitarian crisis is of special concern for the tourism sector, as the risk perception will deter many travelers to the Western sub-region, and possibly even to the continent as a whole, thereby impacting foreign exchange earnings and investment,” said AfDB’s Lufumpa.
Given the immense size of the continent – larger than China, India, the United States and Europe combined – the authors of the 2014 Africa Tourism Monitor urge tourists to continue to travel to the vast majority of African countries that remain safe.