Africa draws just 5 percent of the world’s tourists despite boasting attractions ranging from the Great Pyramids and Victoria Falls to wildlife safaris and endless strips of pristine beaches.
But the continent’s huge potential can be unlocked by eco-tourism, cultural experiences, domestic travel and political stability, said experts at an African tourism conference in Cape Town, South Africa.
“When you look at the success stories, it’s those countries who’ve embraced trends,” said the African Tourism Association’s managing director, Naledi Khabo. “When you look at some countries which have made sustainability a focal point, like Tanzania or Rwanda, they’re very attractive for certain travelers.”
Eco-friendly safaris and carbon-neutral lodging draw increasing numbers of tourists from Europe and North America. The number of tourists visiting Tanzania has more than doubled since 2006 to more than 1 million, contributing 14 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, according to the website Tanzania Invest.
South Africa has witnessed a boom of experience-based tours, taking travelers to disadvantaged township and rural communities, as well as wine farms and game lodges.
Tourism is a major employer of poor South Africans and accounts for nearly 700,000 jobs — a rare success story in a country with an unemployment rate of almost 27 percent.
Although many African destinations have courted foreign visitors’ hard currency, Kenya has invested heavily in promoting “staycations.” The country moved to promote domestic travel after foreign arrivals dipped in the wake of recent violent unrest and criminal attacks.
“We have managed to develop the domestic market,” said Kenyan Tourism Minister Najib Balala. “Twenty-one percent of Airbnb occupancy is domestic market. It’s benefiting us.”
Tourism, now the second-largest driver of Kenya’s growth, was worth $1.2 billion in 2017.
Many countries on the continent have struggled to woo foreign visitors fearful of political instability and violence. Rwanda is one country that has successfully transformed its global image. The small East African nation, torn apart by genocide in 1994, has since established itself as a high-end destination.
“Tourism is the number one foreign exchange earner, which is amazing to see in a country like Rwanda,” said Rosette Rugamba, who headed Rwanda Tourism from 2003 to 2010. “It is a huge contributor to the image-building of our country.”