It can be argued that Africa is the next Asia, but the more difficult question is whether it wants to be. A booming tourism economy brings international dollars and job growth at the risk of environmental and cultural degradation.
In 50 years, Africa will be talked about with the same fervor that global hotel groups and tourism marketers now use to fawn over Asia.
The past half century was spent fostering Asia Pacific’s now monstrous tourism industry and other countries worldwide have made enormous strides in building tourism economies in similar time.
Thailand’s tourism sector was nearly non-existent 50 years ago, but it now employs 15 to 20 percent of the workforce. The Dominican Republic built more than 62,000 hotel rooms in 40 years. And Bali’s tourist arrivals grew from a modest 95,000 in 1973 to 1.9 million in 2010.
The world’s growing traveler community is looking for new experiences and Africa’s cultural and physical landscape makes it a top candidate for the next tourism boom. The World Bank recently released its Africa Tourism Report outlining the potential and obstacles for the continent’s still nascent travel economy.
Africa Tourism Already on the Rise
Between 2009 and 2010, the number of international tourist arrivals to Africa grew 8 percent making it the second fastest growing market in the world after East Asia and the Pacific.
The UN World Tourism Organization expects Sub-Saharan Africa will more than double its tourist arrivals from 30 million in 2010 to 77 million by 2020.
Additionally, the World Travel and Tourism Council expects jobs directly and indirectly related to the tourism industry to grow from 12.8 million in 2012 to 16 million by 2021.
For Better or For Worse
For better or for worse, tourism growth comes riddled with numerous cultural, environment, and social effects.
Although several African nations including Mozambique and Cape Verde have driven their own tourism growth with to legislative reforms, strategic growth plans, and eased visa rules, the majority of the Sub-Saharan African countries are still kickstarting their tourism sectors.
We’ve selected the six top constraints to tourism development that the World Bank report outlines below:
- Infrastructure investments for roads, hotels, and airports are more difficult to attain where there is political, economic, or security risks.
- Gaining legislative support from governments that might not understand the economic value of a growing tourism sector.
- It is difficult to access land for development due to unclear ownership.
- Price competitiveness; it’s difficult to attract visitors and investors if a destination is significantly more expensive that similar locations.
- A lack of skilled workers and unmet demand for tourism education among young people.
- Strict visa rules deter tour operators from including countries on a regional tour.
Countries with developed industries like South Africa and Kenya need to focus on giving young people the skills to develop in tourism and hospitality jobs as well as minimizing the environmental impact.
Countries in the early stages of initiating tourism development or building their industries need to attract investors to build up key infrastructure and work to integrate tourism into the government’s economic policy.
These issues of visa regulations, infrastructure development, political support, and price consciousness continue to impact the tourism industries in Asia and the Pacific. But the benefits of job creation, economic growth, and cultural preservation have helped those and other countries overcome similar obstacles in the past.
The full report from the World Bank can be viewed below:
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Photo credit: Fishing boats sit on the shore of the Nigerian fishing village Orimedu. Arne Hoe / World Bank