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by David J. Saunders

The World Tourism Organization (WTO) has recently acknowledged that the travel and tourism industry, which is on a similar footing to oil and automobile exports, needs to be put firmly on the agenda of current international trade talks as an effective means of poverty alleviation, creating jobs and boosting the income of the world's less developed nations. Accordingly, the WTO has requested that the upcoming trade discussions do not neglect the travel and tourism industry in their deliberations. The WTO presented this new trade initiative called "liberalization with a human face" at the most recent meeting of the Doha Development Round in Cancun. This strategy links the elimination of the remaining trade barriers &endash; many of which do not involve tariffs and include measures such as "travel advisories which certain governments abuse, thus unfairly penalizing many destinations in less developed nations" &endash; with policies which respect the rights of peoples in destination countries. Many less developed countries would definitely benefit from the expansion of trade and investments with the travel and tourism industry, and developed countries would not lose anything in the process because their enterprises will benefit from increased trade resulting from greater liberalization initiatives.

Although tourism is covered in principle by the General Agreement on Trade in Services of 1994, it seems to have been forgotten that tourism receipts represent a larger volume of world trade than agricultural food exports. Moreover, tourism is poised to be one of the most decisive factors for promoting trade with developing nations and therefore helping to reduce poverty, but in order to achieve this goal it needs to be given greater recognition as a services export. The travel and tourism industry has the unique ability to catalyze wealth, investment and jobs in the economies of less developed nations and also serve to stimulate infrastructure for transport as well as encourage improvements in hygiene and sanitation within the global trading system in many of the less developed countries. With the global focus on poverty alleviation the relative importance of the travel and tourism industry in Africa cannot be overstated. The tourism growth of African countries is higher than industrialized countries and the one commodity that all of the world's less developed countries share is their natural environment, climate, heritage and cultural tradition &endash; the very areas that tomorrow's eco-conscious tourist will be seeking.


According to the WTO, Africa has emerged as a region of promising potential for the travel and tourism industry. As we move further into the twenty-first century, it appears that this may be the best time in the history of the travel and tourism industry to market African destinations. The overall quality of services available, affordability of tour programs and convenience of travel to the Continent of Africa is rapidly becoming increasingly more competitive. Moreover, according to recent travel and tourism trends, a new traveler to the Continent of Africa is emerging - - - a more culturally focused tourist - - - one who seeks their vacation to reflect upon the awareness of the environment, exhibits a keen interest in spiritual exploration and a demonstrated commitment to social values through their participation in the African tourism experience. Overall, African tourists are becoming more sophisticated than ever before and want to experience the myriad of authentic and exotic destinations that the Continent of Africa has to offer.


The regional overview for the Continent of Africa as reported by the WTO can be summarized as follows: Africa is the part of the world where the travel and tourism industry made significant progress, with international arrivals rising by 6.1%, third behind the Middle East at 9.7% and Asia and the Pacific at 7.2%. In the past decade, the number of tourists choosing to visit Africa has almost doubled, rising from 15 million to almost 29 million tourists. During this same period, there has been a 50% increase, with a total number of almost 715 million tourists worldwide. In fact, tourist arrival figures have confirmed South Africa as the fastest growing tourist destination in the world, having attracted over 6.4 million visitors last year. However, despite this success, Africa still only accounts for less than 4% of world tourism, with its share, revenue wise, at only 2.5% (an estimated $16 billion in 2002) out of annual sales of close to $4.5 trillion. This gap is largely due to the low level of expenditure throughout the African Continent, and the short average length of stay at these destinations.


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 tele-communications 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 boast outstanding tourist attractions: from its majestic deserts in 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.

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 over six percent 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 almost 80 million, with intra-regional tourism accounting for two-thirds of all visitors. The WTO is actively promoting the development of tourism in Africa that will enhance regional integration, as well as catalyze economic development and simultaneously promote bio-diversity conservation. Targeted areas that should be concentrated on through this initiative include: (a) major investments in new and existing tourism infrastructure; (b) the upliftment of rural poor through community-based tourism development linked to expanding inward investment in tourism and related infrastructure; and (c) strengthening of regional safety and security measures. However, any such developments will have to go hand-in-hand with improved investments in infrastructures covering both accommodations and transportation services. 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 over six percent 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 almost 80 million, with intra-regional tourism accounting for two-thirds of all visitors.

In closing, Africa is truly an immense, diverse and endlessly fascinating continent and the travel and tourism industry of Africa continues to offer unlimited potential for economic growth and opportunity. Moreover, the WTO 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 destination.

About the author: David J. Saunders is the CEO of Venue International Professionals, Inc. (VIP) &endash; a travel and tourism consulting firm based in the Washington Metropolitan Area that specializes in travel and tourism opportunities to the Continent of Africa. He has conducted tours to twenty-five African countries over the past seven years and is a frequent writer of articles on the travel and tourism industry of Africa in several trade publications. He is also the Program Director of the Constituency for Africa (CFA) which is the premiere advocacy-focused non-governmental organization addressing the challenges, issues and concerns of Africa. He can be contacted at