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What Do Tourists to Africa Want? An Easy Visa Process


FILE - An elephant crosses a road made for Safari vehicles as tourists take photos in Tarangire National Park on the outskirts of Arusha, northern Tanzania, Jan. 16, 2015.

FILE - An elephant crosses a road made for Safari vehicles as tourists take photos in Tarangire National Park on the outskirts of Arusha, northern Tanzania, Jan. 16, 2015.

South Africa, Ghana and Senegal rake in cash from their tourism industries, but not Africa’s second-largest economy, Nigeria. A report released this week suggests tourists may pick where to visit based on how easily they can get visas.

Ghana and Nigeria are often seen as sister countries in West Africa. But one way they diverge is in their success at attracting visitors.

A report released by London’s Renaissance Capital this week says Nigeria gets about $500 million in revenue from tourism each year. That is just 0.1 percent of its $481 billion economy.

Ghana, in contrast, reaps a huge benefit from the tourist trade, according to Renaissance Capital global chief economist Charles Robertson.

“Now 0.1 percent of GDP is so much, so much lower than say Ghana, a couple of countries away, which gets over two percent of GDP, in fact it is 25 times more money, relatively, in Ghana than Nigeria,” said Robertson.

Ghana, in fact, ranks among the continent’s best tourism performers, along with Tanzania, Rwanda and Senegal. Nigeria is near the bottom, second only to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

These countries practice varying forms of democracy. But that is not what brings in tourists, Robertson says. Morocco and Jordan are monarchies and also major tourist destinations.

The continent’s top attractions are also free of the war and insecurity that pervades some African states. But that is not what attracts tourists either. South Africa is home to some of the most dangerous cities in the world but still gets between two and three percent of its GDP from tourism.

Robertson said people travel to countries like Senegal and Tanzania because they are easy to get in to.

“A lot of the countries that do well from tourism have a very easy visa regime,” said Robertson.

Rwanda recently overhauled its visa process to increase access, and is seeing benefits, Robertson said.

“They have introduced this open visa regime system as well, and they get four percent of GDP. That is at least 40 times more than what Nigeria does,” he said.

Meanwhile, Nigeria’s official tourism website does not even work, and visa costs can run into the hundreds of dollars.

Robertson says some African countries maintain tight visa requirements because their own citizens face onerous processes to get visas to other countries.

But with Nigeria’s economy in a recession, thanks in part to drops in the price and production of the country’s top export, oil, Robertson said growth in Nigeria’s tourism sector could only help.

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