tourism experts are banding together to market Africa as the world’s next
premiere travel destination. Some are trying to put tourism at the center of
efforts to develop the continent and to reduce poverty there. Sub-Saharan
Africa accounts for just a little over one per cent of the world market share
in the international travel and tourism industry. At the moment, most
international tourists don’t consider traveling to Africa, but industry
kingpins say the global financial crisis is resulting in international
travelers looking to visit cheaper destinations.
“With 53 countries on the continent, Africa’s travel and
investment opportunities are limitless. Now, more than ever, the governments of
many African countries have dedicated resources to turn tourism into one of the
motors driving their economic development,” says Edward Bergman, the director
of the New York-based Africa Travel Association.
The ATA markets itself as the “premier global travel
association promoting tourism to Africa.” Members include African ministers of
tourism and culture, national tourism boards, airlines, hotels, travel agents,
tour operators and media.
“The organization is dedicated to bringing the world to
Africa and Africa to the world,” Bergman says.
According to the ATA, the continent’s travel and tourism
sector generated almost $90 billion last year, and predicts it’ll exceed $185
billion within the next seven years. Bergman says African tourism is expected
to continue to grow at a high level in the near future - a view echoed by the
president of the United States Corporate Council on Africa, Stephen Hayes.
“In addition to being home to some of the globe’s most
spectacular world wonders, Africa offers natural landscapes of all kinds. With
improving infrastructure and growing private sector and consumer purchasing
power, Africa is poised to increase its world market share in tourism in the
coming years,” says Hayes.
Fun in the sun no longer some travelers’ priority
Brad Ford, a director at US-based GAP Adventures, one of
the foremost adventure travel companies in the world, has traversed the globe
but nurtures a “special love” for Africa. Every year, he says, his firm
organizes travel for about 65,000 international tourists to more than 100
Ford acknowledges that Africa
currently represents only a “small portion” of this travel because GAP
Adventures – like many international travel companies – is “very new” to the
“We started in
Africa four years ago, mainly in South Africa and East Africa. And now we’ve
expanded over into 15 countries across Africa and project that Africa will be
one of the biggest areas of growth and development for us over these next few
Ford says the
international tourism sector has a “newfound confidence” in Africa and is
increasingly willing to invest in the continent.
“There are still
problems in some places, but in recent years we’ve seen lots of positive
democratic reforms in Africa, a lot of encouraging signs that the continent is
turning the corner,” he states.
A new faith in
Africa among members of the tourism community, says Ford, is happening at the
same time as burgeoning international interest in adventure travel.
“Now, more than
ever before, people are searching for adventure, for meaningful experiences.
They want to be active, to hike, to climb mountains, to stay with locals in
villages. International travelers want less to spend all their time on beaches
or in luxurious tented camps and hotels and more to experience the reality of a
specific country,” Ford explains.
Bryan Kinkade, director
of travel and tourism at National Geographic Adventure Magazine in the US,
in particular are looking beyond the resorts of the Caribbean and the capitals
of Europe for their holidays, and there’s a good chance they’ll be considering
the continent of Africa for their next vacation,” he says.
Kinkade, many Americans are looking to Africa “with its deserts, mountains,
rivers and seas” as a continent offering excellent chances for “great
He says one in four
Americans took a vacation last year “specifically to participate in an outdoor
activity”– and spent almost 300 billion dollars.
today is big business and a massive opportunity for selling travel to Africa.
By most outlooks, adventure travel is the fastest growing sector of the travel
market today. Americans are increasingly turning overseas for their holiday
options at a record rate. Destinations like South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia
are featuring at the top of their travel lists,” Kinkade states.
But Rina Paterno, the owner of an American tour company that specializes in
travel to Africa, says many American travelers remain very interested in the
continent for one major reason: the continent’s wildlife.
being said about all the new trends in tourism, like adventure tourism and
cultural tourism, many people still want the traditional African holiday, the
safari,” she comments.
Paterno says she’s
encouraged by the growing numbers of Americans making plans to visit African
destinations, and adds that they’re expressing “less concern” about safety and
“Africa is a lot
less taboo (for American travelers) than it used to be…. They are doing (Mount)
Kilimanjaro; they are doing Tanzania, Kenya, Maasai Mara (game park). The
wildebeest migration is (still) a huge thing. South Africa, Cape Town. Those
are the big destinations that we…focus on.”
Gaynelle Henderson Bailey is ATA vice-president and operates Henderson
Associates, the first US travel company to pioneer group tours to Africa.
been sending groups to Africa since 1957, since Ghana’s independence. Our tours
have always been heritage tours. We focused initially on countries like Ghana
and Senegal that clearly have the slave castles…. Now we’re sending people all
over the continent of Africa,” Bailey enthuses.
says growing numbers of African Americans, the descendants of Africans that
were shipped from West Africa to the Americas centuries ago, are returning to
places like Goree Island off Senegal’s coast to “recover their past.”
“Goree Island was
the middle of the African slave trade,” explains.
Aziz Gueye, the
director of Senegal’s tourism office in North America. “Africans were
imprisoned here by European slave traders, before they were herded into ships
and taken away forever….”
Price and information
Brian Kinkade says
a reason for heightened global interest in Africa as a good tourism destination
is “simply based on accessibility and costs. Access to the world has become
faster, easier and cheaper.”
experts say the international economic crisis, which is leading to widespread
job losses and much less disposable income in people’s pockets, is leading to
tourists looking to visit destinations that are much cheaper than those in
Europe, for example.
Mark Walton, the CEO of the
Africa Channel, an international satellite television station that focuses on
events on the continent, says tourists are now considering visits to Africa
“more than ever before” because of the “price factor.”
He says the quality of travel
in Africa has improved a lot, while the costs associated with visiting more
traditional destinations in Europe, for example, have increased dramatically.
“We have opportunities with Africa, because we know how
expensive it is to go to Europe…. We know that there’s such variety on the
continent of Africa that we can get Americans traveling (there) over and over
again,” says Walton.
is the founder of Meticulous Tours, the first travel company in the US owned by
a black South African. Since 1983 her firm has coordinated visits to various
African destinations, including her home country and the entire southern
African region, Ethiopia, Kenya and Ghana.
convinced that the main reason for the “booming” interest in Africa among
tourists is “value for your money. Africa is much cheaper than Europe. In two
weeks in Africa, you can see so much. You can visit South Africa, Zimbabwe,
Namibia and Mozambique all at once. Four of five countries in a two-week period
is no problem. You can’t do this if you visit Europe, unless you’re very rich,”
Kinkade adds that
up until recently, few global travel agencies offered detailed information
about African destinations to clients, although more are now doing so. He also
credits the Internet for “slowly but surely” increasing knowledge of Africa.
the world, about its cultures and natural wonders, is now available at our
fingertips. And all that’s raising consumers’ comfort levels, piquing their
curiosity and inspiring them to get out and visit these places (in Africa)
Stephen Hayes is confident that with all the effort that’s
being made to establish Africa as a leading tourism destination, the continent
will soon be “at the top of the wish list” of international – and especially
American – travelers.