David Saunders

Africa Overview

Morocco as a Tourism Investment

Nepad Challenge

Investing in Africa


African American
Tourism Market

of Tourism to Ethiopia
Bunce Island


US President
African Visit

Overview of Tourism in Africa
by David J. Saunders

In 1998, Africa was the part of the world where the travel and tourism industry made the most progress, with international arrivals rising by 7.5%. In ten years, the number of tourists choosing to visit Africa has almost doubled, rising from 16 million to 29 million tourists. During this same period there has been a fifty percent increase, with a total number of 625 million tourists worldwide in 1998, according to the World Tourism Organization (WTO). However, despite this success, Africa only accounts for 4.6% of world tourism, with its share, revenue-wise, at only 2% (an estimated $13.4 billion in 1998) out of annual sales of close to $4 trillion. This gap is largely due to the low level of expenditure throughout the continent, and the short average length of stay at these destinations.

In 1998, the main African tourist destinations were as follows: (1st) South Africa with 6 million arrivals; (2nd) Tunisia with 4.7 million arrivals; (3rd) Egypt with 3.8 million arrivals; (4th) Morocco with 3.2 million arrivals; (5th) Zimbabwe with 1.6 million arrivals; (6th) Kenya with 1.05 million arrivals; (7th) Botswana with 740,000 arrivals; (8th) Algeria with 650,000 arrivals; (9th) Nigeria with 640,000 arrivals; (10th) Mauritius with 570,000 arrivals; and (11th) Namibia with 510,000 arrivals. But it should be noted that this listing is not relative. Of the arrivals figures for Algeria and Nigeria in particular, transit journeys and family visits account for more travelers than actual tourist trips. The other major destinations in Africa are still somewhere below the 500,000 visitor mark: Tanzania, Zambia, Swaziland, Cote D'Ivoire, Ghana, Senegal and the Seychelles. As far as revenues are concerned in 1998, Egypt with $3.8 billion was well ahead of South Africa's $2.4 billion, Morocco's $1.6 billion and Tunisia's $1.5 billion.

Tourism is currently as one of three essential industries for the African continent. With regard to the travel and tourism industry, the continent of Africa is projected to be the most attractive sector of foreign direct investment during the next decade. Recent trends indicate that potential travelers are becoming more aware of a wide diversity of people and environments in Africa which is unequalled in any other location in the world, from its fantastic wildlife and natural landscapes to its fascinating and cultural historical heritage. Accordingly, tourism ranked third behind telecommunications and agri-business industries that received considerable foreign direct investments in Africa. The major areas of concentration offering tremendous opportunity for potential investors in the travel and tourism industry for Africa are in adventure tourism, cultural/historical tourism and eco-tourism.

It is also a well-known fact that Africa boats outstanding tourist attractions: from its majestic deserts to the north and south, wonderful beaches in the east and west, tropical rainforests in the middle, and unique nature and game reserves in the east and south. South of the Sahara, foreigners may discover both strikingly unscathed natural sites and peoples who have clung on to many of their age-old cultural traditions. The north of the continent, for its part, from Marrakech in Morocco to Luxor in Egypt by way of Carthage (Tunisia) and Leptis Magna (Libya) offers some of the world's most stunningly beautiful monumental sites. Of the 630 sites featured at the end of 1999 on UNESCO's World Heritage list, eighty-four are located in Africa. Tourist potential is fairly evenly distributed throughout the continent, but used in very different ways. Those African countries which chalk up the best performances have built up an infrastructure base (hotels and means of communications) and possess the necessary commercial facilities (tourist offices).

A country like Tunisia, whose accommodation capacity exceeded 180,000 beds in 1998, has thus created a full-fledged tourist industry on its Mediterranean shores. This activity provides some 75,000 jobs, and the revenues it produces contribute to the country's GNP to the tune of about ten percent. The same goes for Senegal where, after fishing, this sector is the country's second provider of foreign currency. Making the most of the European markets on its doorsteps, Tunisia has focused on mass tourism in coastal resorts, but this sector has the drawback of requiring considerable investment, with low returns per unit.

Like Egypt, Morocco (90,000 beds in 1998) is attempting to diversify its supply side by developing cultural and eco-tourism. Rather than give pride of place to its beaches, it has tried to put the accent on the marvels of art and history represented by its imperial cities of Fez, Meknes, Marrakech and Rabat. This more elite-oriented tourism focus is based on quality hotel accommodations, the jewel in this crown being the Mamounia in Marrakech, Africa's only such establishment to be listed among the world's best hotels. Some countries, like Mauritius and the Seychelles, play the up-market card even more wittingly with luxury hotels and no charter flights. Kenya, for its part (like Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and South Africa) has based its tourism success on its spectacular wildlife and nature reserves.

Whatever the type of tourism, the overall quality of international air services is extremely crucial to the success of the tourism industry in Africa. Ethiopian Airlines, Ghana Airways and South Africa Airways have contributed mightily to the increased distribution of tourism in their respective regions as well as for their own countries. Likewise, Egypt Air, Tunis Air, Air Mauritius, Kenya Airways and Royal Air Maroc have all made a decisive contribution to the development of tourism in their respective countries.

Consequently, the future holds out much promise for African tourism which, to date, has attracted primarily westerners, either going there on vacation or for business. With an annual growth rate of 5.4%, the volume of activity in this sector should rise by a factor of four between now and 2020. The number of visitors will thus rise to 75 million, with intra-regional tourism accounting for two-thirds of all movements. But any such development will have to go hand-in-hand with bigger and better investments in infrastructures covering both accommodations and transport.

Moreover, the World Tourism Organization currently ranks the African continent as one of the fastest growing destinations for international tourists. As a result, tourism organizations, tour operators, governments, hotel groups, airlines and other service-related providers in Africa are now joining forces to ensure that the continent is put firmly on the map as one of the world's premiere travel and tourism destinations. In closing, Africa is truly an immense, diverse and endlessly fascinating continent and the travel and tourism industry of Africa offers unlimited potential for economic growth and opportunity.

About the author: David J. Saunders is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Venue International Professionals, Inc. (VIP), a full-service travel, tourism and trade-related consulting firm, based in the Washington Metropolitan Area that specializes on the Continent of Africa. He is a member of the International Board of Directors of the Africa Travel Association (ATA) and is a frequent panelist of radio and television programs focusing on the travel and tourism industry of Africa. He is also the Director of Administration and Management Services for the Constituency for Africa (CFA), the premiere advocacy and educational non-governmental organization (NGO) based in America focusing on issues and concerns affecting Africa and its people as well as an Instructor of International Trade and Investment Opportunities at Howard University's Small Business Development Center (HUSBDC) in Washington, D.C. He can be contacted at the following e-mail addresses: vipinc@erols.com and dsaunders@cfanet.org.