Tourism as an engine for Africa's inclusive growth

"The tourism industry is experiencing an surprising growth throughout Africa, becoming increasingly important to the continent's economy, although it could generate a much more positive impact on the GDP of African countries."

A vendor sells African curios in Grand Bassam, Ivory Coast. Photo Credit: Legnan Koula/EPA
A vendor sells African curios in Grand Bassam, Ivory Coast. Photo Credit: Legnan Koula/EPA

Consideration is contained in the last report of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) emblematically entitled "Tourism for Transformative and Inclusive Growth".

The study analyses the extraordinary growth of the sector since 1995, noting that from 2011 to 2014, the growing influx of tourists and valued currencies contributed on average to 8.5% of the continent's GDP. The figure is much more significant for some small island nations, with rates exceeding 50%, especially for Seychelles where tourism has contributed 61.5% of GDP.

Estimates also indicate that the overall sector contribution to the GDP of Africa will reach $ 296 billion by 2026. This is a huge growth, considering that between 1995 and 1998 the figure was at 30 billion of dollars.

Despite the dramatic increase in terrorist attacks, the Ebola epidemic and the economic downturn, between 2011 and 2014, the continent attracted 56 million visitors, against the 24 who recalled between 1995 and 1998. While In the same period, tourism export revenues have more than tripled from $ 14 billion to about $ 47 billion.

The huge revenue generated by the tourist flow has also contributed to the creation of new jobs in a sector that already directly and indirectly employs at least 21 million people, over half of whom are under 25 years old. This means that 1 job every 14 is originated by tourism. In addition, the sector's acceleration should generate some 29 million jobs in 2026.

Africa's tourism growth is also reflected in the renewed interest shown by the hotel industry, while the percentage of women working in African tourism is very significant and in line with global trends: data show that they account for 47 % of employees in the hotel and catering industries.

The report also points out that Mali is the country that has reported the highest female participation among all the 172 countries surveyed in the last UNTWO report, with 82% of women working in hotels and restaurants.

The survey highlights how domestic tourism is fuelling the sector's rise in the continent, with two out of ten Africans who choose to visit North Africa, while even two-thirds of tourism in the sub-Saharan Africa is intra- regional. International visitors are also on the rise and make a strong contribution to Africa's growth and development.

Among the main limitations to be overtaken in the report are the political instability and the gap between the four major players in the sector: Egypt, Kenya, South Africa and Ethiopia, which together account for more than 90% of continental air traffic.

In fact, there are still so many African countries that do not have airlines that can provide sufficient coverage to promote tourism in the region. A gap that must be overcome as soon as possible to unlock enormous potential.

The report also considers that intra-regional tourism can be a source of social benefits, stressing that greater understanding and enhancement of cultures, as well as closer economic ties, promote tolerance among nations. All this diminishes the chances of triggering potential conflicts, thus contributing to the pacification of the continent.

Obviously, all this optimism poses the threat of terrorism in various Africa's areas, which in recent years has reduced the tourist flow to some African countries, especially in North Africa. Countries most affected by the declining presence of Western tourists due to the risk of possible attacks are Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco.

Security issues have also become a very serious issue for Mali and the coastal regions of Kenya. Not to mention that 22 of the last 45 countries for which the US Department of State issued a travel warning are African.

In addition, two of the most lethal extremist groups in the world are active in the continent: Boko Haram and al-Shabaab, threatening at least five African countries each one.

But we forget that the continent is home to 54 countries; 17 of which have never had a “terror” attack. More than half of the continent has not experienced a “terrorism”-related death since 2013. Another six countries have experienced fewer than 10 killings each.

Tourism in Africa remains fundamental to the continent's inclusive growth, and more than the threat of terrorism, will continue to be penalized by infrastructure shortages and transport difficulties.


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