Stories by VICTOR NZE
Tourism has vast potential to transform lives, mainly in terms of job creation and human development. The African continent welcomed 65 million visitors, in 2013 alone. The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) projects that Africa’s international tourist arrivals will increase to 134 million, an increase of 106 per cent by 2030.
In the recent 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.
According to the World Bank between 1990 and 2012, the number of visitors to the African continent increased by 300 per cent. 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.
Walter Mzembi, Zimbabwe’s Minister of Tourism and Hospitality Industry and ATA President (2012-2014) writes, in the 2014 publication, “If you look at the heart of Africa, the continent’s greatest tourism assets are its people, its humanity, and its warm hospitality. 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 ATA, 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.”
“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. 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,” Charles Leyeka Lufumpa, Director of the Statistics Department at the AfDB, writes in the foreword.
At present, Africa’s tourism industry directly employs about 8.2 million people, representing 5.3 per cent of the workforce in North Africa and 2.4% in Sub-Saharan Africa. World Bank estimates, the tourism industry could increase 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.
However, challenges to developing the tourism sector remain. Tourism infrastructure is still lacking, making travel within the continent a challenge. In addition, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has had a remarkable impact on travel and tourism across the continent. The Africa tourism industry is experiencing severe consequences across the continent in the form of economic losses, cancelled flights and hotel bookings, closed borders and negative perceptions.