Africa Travel Association says the time is ripe for the continent to establish
itself as the world’s premiere tourist destination. The ATA, based in New York,
has for decades promoted Africa and its numerous attractions. But a number of
research studies show most international tourists continue to shy away from
visiting African countries because they don’t think they’ll be safe there. The
ATA, though, says Africa has an undeserved reputation for being ridden with crime.
all eyes on South Africa as it builds towards its historic hosting of the
Soccer World Cup in 2010, reports are rife in the international media warning
potential visitors about the country’s high crime rate.
In major global publications, journalists write articles
to the effect that every day more than 300 murders and violent attacks happen
in South Africa. They constantly label it as “one of the three most dangerous
countries on earth,” along with Iraq - where forces of that country and the United
States are battling Islamic militants - and Colombia, where there’s conflict between state forces, anti-government
insurgent groups and illegal paramilitaries funded by the cocaine trade.
Oosthuizen, South Africa’s deputy sports minister, acknowledges that, like most
developing countries, his homeland has a “crime challenge.” However, he says
it’s “ridiculous” to equate South Africa with “war zones,” emphasizing that his
government and its security force have crime “under control.”
Maxwell Eliogu, a Ghanaian based in Washington, D.C., who manages a company
that promotes travel to Africa, says the daily reports of murder, rape and
carjacking originating from South Africa “are not doing Africa any favors.”
entire continent is being painted with the same brush” as a result of the crime
situation in South Africa, Eliogu says.
day we hear the stories of the terrible murders in South Africa, of the armed
robberies and rapes. We hear that the country is the murder capital of the world.
When foreigners see these reports, they think the whole of Africa is full of
crime, that all of Africa is dangerous. Because many of them consider Africa to
be one country.”
Second highest murder rate in world
According to statistics compiled by the United
Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute, South
Africa and Africa as a whole have lower rates of violent crime than some South
American countries. In Brazil, for example, about 55,000 people are murdered
annually, while there are approximately 20,000 murders each year in South
Africa. But some parties concerned about crime in South Africa point out that
Brazil, home to an estimated 200 million people, is one of the most populous
countries in the world, whereas the African nation has a population of just 45
million people. If the population factor is taken into account, security
experts say, then South Africa has the second highest per capita murder rate in
the world, behind only Colombia.
Yet the country’s tourism ministry maintains that
international travelers are flocking to South Africa in “record numbers” to
enjoy its beautiful beaches, famed wildlife and cultural diversity. The
ministry says almost nine million foreigners visited last year, up from 8.4 million in 2006, and
that this number is expected to increase to 10 million visitors ahead of the 2010
Africa is undoubtedly the tourism hub of Africa at the moment,” says Brad Ford,
who operates one of the United States’ top travel companies. He adds that his
firm’s trips to the country have “skyrocketed” in recent times.
despite the optimism reflected in soaring visitor numbers, the World Economic
Forum’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index has ranked the country
extremely poorly in terms of safety and security of tourists: 123rd out of the 130 countries reviewed. In the “reliability of police service”
section, South Africa was placed at number 102 – behind even Kenya and
Pakistan, countries noted for the corruption and inefficiency of their security
tourism expert Peter Koblmiller, who’s also the editor of the German tourism
magazine Kaapstadt, told South Africa’s Weekend Argus newspaper
were not visiting South Africa because of the high crime rate and media reports
of attacks on international tourists in the country.
Koblmiller also insists that many of the nine million foreigners registered by
the authorities as having visited the country last year were not international
tourists, but rather people from neighboring countries who were seeking jobs or
making short shopping trips.
Alvin Kushner, chairman of the Cape Town Tour Operators Association, agrees
with Koblmiller’s views. He says many foreign tour groups are canceling visits
to South Africa because they fear criminal attacks.
South African officials blame the media for “exaggerating” crime
levels and for “unfairly targeting” their country because of its high profile
hosting of the Soccer World Cup.
entirely correct to say (crime) is a South African or African problem; it’s a
worldwide problem. In the city of New York there are no-go areas, and nobody’s
saying anything about that,” Oosthuizen comments.
de Villiers, the South African author of several guidebooks and a tourism
consultant based in the U.S. who encourages Americans to visit Africa, says
crime is indeed a “fact of life” in South Africa – but no more so than in most
other parts of the globe. He’s convinced that it’s safe to visit…. if tourists
take certain “precautions.”
long as you go out there and you’re not going to be a babe in the woods and go
into a dark street at midnight, and expect not to be in danger, I think you
will have a safe trip,” de Villiers says.
However, a recent spate of robberies of tourists
in Johannesburg has done little to assuage international concerns ahead of the
though, maintains that crime rates have dropped since his government increased
matter what the truth is,” says Eliogu, “South Africa’s image as one of the
worst places in the world in terms of crime” is “very damaging” to the entire
Some international tourists ‘ignoring security paranoia’
of the global travel industry say post-election violence in Kenya, once one of
Africa’s leading travel destinations, and also attacks on foreigners living in
South Africa, severely damaged the image of Africa as a whole and resulted in
tourists canceling their visits to Africa.
Tour operator Brad
Ford says Americans especially are very nervous about traveling to countries
where there are even “slight” security concerns or political “instability.”
But he declares
that travelers of other nationalities seem more willing to throw caution to the
“We’re finding that
Canadians really aren’t all that concerned about what’s happening in Kenya in
terms of violence or any kind of upset. They’re still traveling to Kenya and
they still insist on traveling to Kenya (and to Africa).”
says many international travelers are paying less attention to media reports
about instability in Africa, and are placing more emphasis on first-hand
experience of local conditions at tourist destinations.
“Some of the reports that happen on the news, through
some of the more popular international news organizations, may be a little bit
different from what you experience when you’re actually speaking with a local
in the community that you travel to,” he says.
owner of a New York-based travel agency, says the first question potential
clients still ask her when she suggests a holiday in Africa is, “Is it safe?”
She says she sets their minds at ease by telling
them about her various trips to Africa and how safe she felt everywhere she
went on the continent.
“After speaking with people who’ve experienced
Africa first-hand, the clients tend to ignore all the paranoia about security
in Africa,” Paterno says.
Amadou Gallo Fall is a former leading basketball player in
the United States and is director of scouting for the Dallas Mavericks. In this
capacity, the Senegalese native often accompanies some of America’s top
basketball players on tours of various African countries. Initially, he says,
some of them are apprehensive and wonder whether it’s safe, but Fall reassures
them by telling them that “Africa is no more dangerous than any other place in
says, “My experience has been that every single person that has traveled there
with us has really had a good time and they all want to come back.”