Africa’s Tourism and Leisure Industry

Tourism in Africa is one of the most underdeveloped sectors globally. The African continent captures a mere 1 per cent of the global tourism industry and contributes 8.5 per cent to the continents GDP 

Tourism is underdeveloped in most countries in Africa despite Africa being home to so many natural beauties. Indeed, African tourism potential is vast – notably the diaspora, cultural, coastal and food tourism, but it remains largely untapped. In 2018, Africa’s share of global earnings in the tourism industry was a mere 1 per cent (of $1.7 trillion) (Quartz); though tourism had contributed about 8.5 per cent to the continent’s GDP that same year (UNCTAD). 

Benefits of developed and sustainable tourism 

Tourism promotes peace within the site’s host community (Vallabh et al.); supports earning of foreign exchange (Dieke, P.); and creates jobs especially for women and young people (currently tourism represents about 9.1 million direct jobs in Africa – Brookings). 

Moreover, many of these jobs are low-skill jobs, allowing uneducated youth to find employment in multiple sectors of the economy (e.g., tourism, construction and food) (Africa Development Forum). Pre-Covid-19 projections further confirmed this and showed that tourism would create about 3.8 million new jobs within the next ten years in Africa, including restaurants and hotels’ construction, with consumers’ spending in tourism, hospitality, and leisure will reach about $262 billion by 2030 (Brookings). 

Common barriers to achieving a sustainable and developed African tourism 

Only a handful of African countries have developed their tourism industry, namely South Africa, Mauritius, Morocco, Kenya and Egypt (Brookings). This is due in part to the fact that Africa is slow to take advantage of the latest development in information and technology, which helps tourists select their preferred destination (D. Ferreira & S. Perks). For example destination site’s images are usually of lower quality (D. Arefayne & M. Kindeya). Second, roads in poor conditions with difficult access to sites do not promote tourism in sub-Saharan Africa. Third, inadequate regulations make it challenging to get visas for international visitors (World Bank). Fourth, tourists’ safety and security are not always guaranteed (for example, there are conflicts in a dozen African countries). Lastly, not involving the host community in planning and developing the tourism site causes some community rejections (Vallabh et al.).

 Impact of Covid-19 pandemic on the tourism and leisure industry  

Lockdown rules due to Covid-19 pandemic have also severely affected the tourism and leisure industry. The World Travel and Tourism Council’s estimated that Africa will lose between $53 billion and $120 billion as a contribution to its GDP. This is not surprising when we consider that international travellers were not allowed; social distancing rules were imposed on all citizens, with outdoor sports activities cancelled; gym & beaches were closed as well as restaurants. 

Thanks to the development of Covid-19 vaccines by Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech with a reported efficacy rate of between 90-95% for both (see Pfizer & Moderna websites), there is hope travel restrictions will be lifted to pre-Covid-19 levels soon. Considering the fact that Africa has had about 120 million domestic and international visitors in 2018 (about 40 per cent of international tourists came from within the continent – UNCTAD); this will be good news to the African tourism industry – the second-fastest growing in the world pre-Covid-19 (Brookings). 

Some policy prescriptions that can potentially improve Africa tourism value and importance

1. In addition to visa-free travel among African countries themselves such as within the ECOWAS region’s 15 nations currently; and soon the whole of Africa with the AfCFTA agreement’s implementation, Africa should allow visa-free travel to high-income countries.  

2. With government support, transform conflict-affected areas with high growth potential into tourism destinations to support peace initiatives (Africa Development Forum).

3. Improve the safety and security of tourists via visual policing in and around high growth potential areas (D. Ferreira & S. Perks).

4. Introduce UN sustainable development goals and principles into the tourism curriculum across Africa (K. O. Odeku & N. S. Matsiliza).

This article was written by Hugue Nkoutchou and is published with permission.

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