With excitement and expectation to see a tourism boom in Africa, tourist stakeholders are looking at the official tour of the continent by US President Barack Obama as a kick-start to the tapping of the rich American tourist market through the publicity of his visit.

Once regarded as a continent “doomed with diseases, wars and poverty” by most Americans, Africa is now a destination of choice for US residents in terms of investment and holidays, according to sources from the US Department of Commerce.

Rich in wildlife, natural tourist attractions, diversified cultures and favourable weather conditions for human health, Africa is growing to be the US businesspeople’s number-one investment destination owing to its rich resources including big reserves of minerals, natural gas and oil in trillions of cubic metres, and wildlife.

Tanzania is among three African nations on the itinerary of Mr. Obama’s week-long tour of this continent. Tanzanian Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Mr Khamis Kagasheki, said the tour of the US president will attract more Americans to know this country through global media coverage.

President Obama will be accompanied by a delegation comprising high-profile US business personalities who will be booked in various hotels available in places he will be visiting. America is a number-one tourist source market which Tanzania is currently targeting.

According to the Tanzania Tourist Board, the official tourist marketing, promotion and publicity institution, American tourists and holidaymakers rank second after Britons. About 60,000 American tourists visit Tanzania every year, against 65,000 British tourists visiting various tourist attractions.

Mr. Kagasheki said the number of tourists who visited Tanzania last year rose to over the one-million mark, a 24 per cent increase on the 867,994 figure the previous year. The increase was a result of an increased number of accommodation facilities as well as better infrastructure made up of roads and airways to get the tourists to their destinations, Tanzanian officials say.

Americans are counted to be high-quality and highspending tourists visiting Tanzania, including high-spending trophy hunters counted estimated at over 4,000 per year. Photographic safari American tourists outnumber the other categories, while Mount Kilimanjaro and sports tourists from the US visit the country every year.

Trophy hunting in Tanzania has been attracting US tycoons, mostly from Texas, who are ranked the highest-spending holidaymakers visiting this country. Mount Kilimanjaro, Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti National Park are the leading tourist sites attracting most photographic tourists, while Selous Game Reserve, with a total area of 55,000 square kilometers, is the leading paradise for trophy hunters.

Mr. Kagasheki said his ministry was thinking of coming up with a slogan: “Obama has visited Tanzania, when are you?”, which could later be changed to, “Three American presidents have already toured Tanzania, what about you?”

But big tourist hotels in Tanzania’s commercial capital, Dar es Salaam, are expecting to gain good business from Obama’s entourage, at the same time getting a big media splash through American media that would be an added advantage to Tanzania’s tourism trade.

During the visit by then President George Bush in this country way back in 2008, all big hotels were fully booked by his entourage while tourists from other nationalities were diverted to less elegant hotels and guest-houses, thus creating good business for small and medium accommodation facilities in Dar es Salaam.

Tourism authorities and businesses from Dar es Salaam and the Tanzania’s northern tourist city of Arusha have been striving to attract Obama’s entourage in order to gain more profits and mileage in the global tourism industry.

Tanzania, the largest country in East Africa, is focused on wildlife conservation and sustainable tourism, with approximately 28 per cent of its land mass being protected by the government for wildlife and nature conservation. Tanzania’s tourism sector comprises 16 national parks and 32 game reserves, the legendary Mt. Kilimanjaro, the famous Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Crater, the Olduvai Gorge where the skull of the earliest man was discovered, Selous Game Reserve, Ruaha National Park – now the largest national park in Africa, and the spicy islands of Zanzibar.

Other than hunting and photographic trips to Tanzania, American-based travel and tourism organizations have in the recent past chosen Tanzania as their meeting ground in Africa. These organizations include the International Institute for Peace Through Tourism (IIPT), which held its Third African Conference in Dar es Salaam in 2003; Africa Travel Association (ATA) Conference, which held its 33rd World Congress (Conference) in Arusha in 2008, and the Eighth Leon H. Sullivan Conference held in the same year.

The First Travellers Philanthropy Conference was also held in Arusha in 2008, bringing in over 250 delegates from the USA and other countries where American tourists are sourced, including Europe, the Pacific, Asia and the Caribbean islands.

Over 200 African descendants in the United States Diaspora gathered in Tanzania three years ago (2009) in a mission to explore the ancestral origins of their great grandparents during the African Diaspora Heritage Trail Conference.

With the theme: “An African Homecoming: Exploring the Origins of the African Diaspora and Transforming Cultural Heritage Assets into Tourism Destinations,” the conference participants discussed and broadened their knowledge on Africa that would help them to protect African Diaspora traditions and legacy found in communities from which they originated.

Most delegates were from the United States of America, Latin America and the Caribbean islands of Bermuda, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos, Jamaica, Martinique and St. Lucia. The conference helped to preserve the global presence and cultural influence of the people of African descent and contributed their knowledge to the world stage of history, culture and contemporary affairs, organizers said.

The conference attracted educational, governmental and tourism professionals. It brought to Tanzania and Africa prominent African- Americans and celebrities to trace their origins. Apart from the African Diaspora Heritage Trail Conference, several tourist and investment gatherings also took place in Tanzania during the past 10 years, all organised in the United States.

Obama’s roots, which are in Kenya, had so far added more excitement among Africans to see the first black president of the United States. In 1997 the former US Secretary of State, Mrs. Hillary Clinton, visited Tanzania for the first time to become the first American First Lady to visit this country, accompanied by her daughter, Chelsea.

Looking at the African continent as a whole, Obama’s visit to Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania has so far attracted many Africans with great expectations to see this continent get more exposed in America. Compared to Europe, Asia and now China, Africa remained on the dark side of the American people.

During the tour of Obama to Africa, the countries he will visit are expecting to see an increase in publicity that will create a great opportunity to their tourism industry. Africa will be home to the largest workforce in the world within 50 years.

In the short term, rapid urbanization is contributing to a growing demand for consumer goods and fuelling the need for infrastructure and other development, said the US Senate Chair for Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs, Senator Chris Coons.

“As American companies increase investments in Africa, they will improve their access to these dynamic markets, resulting not only in attractive rates of return on investments, but also in growth for the US economy that will lead to job creation”, Senator Coons said in March, this year.

“The Department of Commerce can and should serve as an important force multiplier for American companies abroad. Yet, the reduced footprint of the Foreign Commercial Service in Africa translates into missed opportunities for American businesses. We must do more to ensure the presence of the Commercial Service is aligned with current market demands and future business opportunities on the continent,” he said in his recently published report.

America is home to a large and vibrant African Diaspora population – a group with personal, familial, cultural and business ties to their home countries. Engaging the African Diaspora community in the United States will strengthen economic ties and promote trade and development. The United States possesses a valuable resource in its vibrant African Diaspora communities.

These individuals, communities and businesses offer a bridge to the African continent that should be leveraged to its full potential to develop economic opportunities, Senator Coons added.

The Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs convened to explore the economic potential of sub- Saharan Africa and identify concrete, substantive steps forward to increasing US-Africa investment and trade and which would provide a roadmap for developing a more cohesive, effective strategy for US economic engagement with Africa in both the public and private sectors.

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Tags: obama, tourism, usa
Photo Credit: Artist Ouzin puts the finishing touches on a painting honouring the upcoming visit by U.S. President Barack Obama to Dakar June 24, 2013. Joe Penney / Reuters