Sub-Saharan Africa had 34 million international visitors in 2012.1 On current trends the arrivals are set to rise to 55 million by 2020, contributing $68 billion to the region’s GDP, and 6.4 million jobs, up from 4.9 million at decade’s start. Adding indirect and induced spending, tourism’s total contribution would almost triple to $177 billion and almost 16 million jobs. In addition, the foreign exchange from tourism helps finance purchases of machinery and other inputs needed for economic transformation. The projections are on current trends. Given the continent’s recent dynamism, they are likely to be low, especially for business and professional travel.
Nearly half the international tourists go to Southern Africa, which has the top destinations (see chart below). South Africa is the continent’s leader, and many leading destinations in the region are geographically close to it (Johannesburg and Cape Town are hubs for all of Southern Africa and the southern Indian Ocean). Zimbabwe, despite recent difficulties, is second. Botswana, with its well managed economy and remarkable geography and wildlife in the Okavango Delta, is third. And Kenya, Mozambique, and Uganda, having done much to promote both tourism and investment, take the next three places. Indeed, Mozambique has recently had two resorts on Condé Nast’s “World Top 100 New Resorts.”
Leading destinations in Africa, by arrivals, 2011
South Africa has nearly $10 billion in tourist receipts. Mauritius and Tanzania each earn about $1.5 billion a year. And Angola, Ghana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, and Zimbabwe each have receipts of more than $500 million.2 South Africa, with its geography, climate, and resources, has been an aggressive promoter of its wildlife, beaches, wine tours, gaming, and adventure. And it has greatly improved the quality of its products—ranging from large resorts to community-based tourism. Tanzania has one of the region’s highest receipts per arrival, thanks to high-income travelers visiting its northern circuit around Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, and Mount Kilimanjaro (also marketed by Kenya) and its beach and cultural destinations around Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar.
Why do tourists come? Propinquity drives cross-border trips in Southern and, indeed, most of Africa. Visits are for leisure, work, visiting friends and family, and shopping and trading. The United Kingdom and United States are leading source markets, but Germany features in most of the selections, and China is very strong in Nigeria, while France is the leading market for Senegal. Indeed, the traditional markets are Western Europe and North America. Recently, however, the Asian market has been growing rapidly, weak economic environment, or a lack of tourism resources that can be developed into economically productive assets. Some are on the threshold. Others are more advanced. And a few are already world-class. Tourism is subject to changes in tastes and trends so operators have to constantly upgrade their product to stay ahead of the curve. Each country, at a different stage of development, requires a different solution for supporting tourism.