Despite the continent’s ample potential and natural beauty, tourism in Africa had been growing at a disappointingly slow rate. That is now changing, however, with investment into Africa’s tourism sector on the up in 2018, earning $416.8m in new investments spread across five major projects.
While greenfield investment in African tourism has seen some ups and downs, between 2005 and 2017 the number of international travellers arriving in Africa grew at a rate second only to Asia-Pacific, according to fDi Intelligence.
South Africa and Morocco, both established tourist destinations, remain Africa’s top destinations both for tourists and investments. However, other countries are keen to expand their sectors, attracted by its potential for job creation and steady stream of foreign currency revenues.
Zambia’s economy, for example, has long been based on mining. Now tourism is considered a priority sector by the government. “We realised that in manufacturing and mining, with this digital migration, people are being replaced by technology, but [in] the service industry, tourism in particularly, you cannot replace people with technology,” says Charles Romel Banda, Zambia’s minister of tourism and the arts.
Power of the past
Africa’s unique history can be a basis from which to begin building a tourism industry, particularly with a global diaspora tracing their heritage. “What is unique about Ghana is our link to the history of the slave trade,” says Catherine Afeku, Ghana’s minister for tourism, arts and culture. “More than 64 dungeons are found dotted along the coastline, and that gives us a unique position in heritage tourism.”
Tanzania, meanwhile, is seeking to capitalise on its natural wonders. “If you want to put your money into nature or culture, then Tanzania should be your destination because it has reserved 33% of its land for conservation activities. So far we have only made use of a very small bit of that heritage,” says minister of tourism and natural resources Hamisi Andrea Kigwangalla.
He notes that while tourism is well developed in the country’s north around the beaches of Zanzibar and the famous Serengeti national park, there is much underdeveloped potential in the south. The minister is also keen to point to the country’s stability, promising a fiscal regime that “assures incoming investors that they will recoup their profits and can rely on their operations there”.
A public image
Perception, however, remains a problem. “What we need to do is brand it as 54 countries and not a continent, and we need aggressive promotion and marketing to do that,” says Mr Banda. He points to the example of France, where regular demonstrations and a number of recent terrorist attacks have done little to slow tourist flows, whereas the Ebola outbreak in two small countries in west Africa affected the economy of the entire continent.
Better and more digitally savvy public relations are key here. “What a proper PR department is supposed to do is manage crisis information, and if you do not have that then you allow the Western media to distort information as much as they like, and we don’t have a say,” says Victoria Salami, chair and co-founder of tourism consultancy Vhoolink.
Linking training programmes directly with industry has borne fruit for South Africa’s tourism sector. “Too many governments are wasting money on training, but then have graduates that come out with a diploma but no job,” says Sven Leirvaag, vice-president for industry affairs at Amadeus IT Group. “We’ve done work with a lot of different providers [in South Africa] to qualify candidates with skills that companies have already said they want.”