Tourism as an economic driver: Here’s what Africa should be doing

2017-06-21 13:30 - Kavitha Pillay
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Cape Town - It's no secret South Africa is going through one of it's toughest economic periods, with junk status ratings at almost every turn.

And yet tourism remains a strong contributor, offering a window of recovery during these tough economic times. It remains an imperative that the tourism industry constantly comes up with innovative ways to keep the sector thriving.

Following the World Economic Forum in Africa 2017, Desmond ‘O Connor, Head of Kulula Holidays says that “From a business perspective, the untapped potential of Sub-Saharan Africa could be an opportunity within the travel and tourism industry that can bring about potentially higher returns than other already mature destinations.”

But how can African countries achieve this?

SEE: Travel trends in SA: Making travel possible during tough economic times

Traveller24 chats to Chief Executive Officer at the Tourism Business Council of South Africa, Mmatšatši Ramawela, about how the African tourism industry can attain this.

Ramawela says, “There is still plenty of untapped economic potential in the Sub-Saharan Africa region, which presents great opportunities for the travel and tourism industry.”

She adds that the latest figures released by The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) on inbound tourism in Africa prove that Sub-Saharan Africa is “leading the charge in respect of overall growth in tourist arrivals”.

The continent as a whole reported an 8% surge in international arrivals in 2016, with Sub-Saharan Africa increasing by 11% and South Africa by a massive 13%. Last year, we broke records to reach 10 million international tourists coming to South Africa.

Experts indicate that these figures far exceed the global increase in international arrivals of 3.9% overall - with a vast untapped tourism potential that could "buoy the greater African economy and contribute its prosperity.” 

SEE: Tourism trends in Africa: mobile is the game-changer

So how can Sub-Saharan Africa capitalise on this?

South Africa: Medical tourism and coastal tourism

“South Africa’s coastline stretches far and wide, from the desert border with Namibia on the Atlantic, all the way to the northeast border with Mozambique on the Indian Ocean which presents plenty of coastal and marine tourism opportunities to be leveraged in areas such as cruise tourism and coastal resort development amongst other areas,” says Ramawela.

Through aquaculture and the Oceans Economy, the Department of Tourism in South Africa already has plans in place to boost the sector and the economy with the Marine and Coastal Tourism strategy.

SEE: Marine and Coastal Tourism strategy set to grow economy, boost tourism

Ramawela adds that another area in South Africa that is fast growing is medical tourism.

“The country’s established medical healthcare facilities, coupled with a strong hospitality sector make it attractive for patients coming from different parts of the continent for medical reasons.”

SEE: Medical tourism: SA tops for extended stays

Another opportunity to boost tourism is through cultural and cuisine tourism, she says.

“This is a hugely missed opportunity at the moment especially when it comes to sharing our cuisine with the world coupled with our extensive wine collection and local drinks.

SEE: Food for thought: Why is Africa not the best foodie destination on the globe?

“Within this, there is also the opportunity around township tourism which enables us to include entrepreneurs and tourism offerings from the previously disadvantaged members of our society, thus contributing towards the agenda of inclusive economic growth and transformation,” says Ramawela.

ALSO SEE: Township Tourism: Why SA should value and invest in places like Khayelitsha

Madagascar, Angola and Tanzania: Resources ‘boom’ driving investment in hotel and airlift

Business tourism opportunities have come about as a result of “the resources ‘boom’ in several countries in the region such as Angola, Madagascar and Tanzania”, according to  Ramawela.

WATCH: Cape Town photographer's journey from SA to Tanzania

“This of course has created plenty of demand for hotel development, the development of airlift infrastructure amongst others. These countries have untapped opportunities that will all contribute towards making Africa the next BIG THING from a travel and tourism perspective – allowing Africans to explore this continent as well,” she says.

SEE: SA travellers want to visit these 10 African countries the most

Rwanda, Nigeria and Kenya: Business events sector opportunities

According to Ramawela, the rise of the retail sector, telecommunications and banking services, the growth of middle class across the region, infrastructural developments (like the convention centres in Rwanda), and improvements in airlift infrastructure (such as upgrades to the airport in Nigeria), make these destinations more ideal and attractive to host business events and encourage business travel.

SEE: Cape Town named top city in Africa for business tourism

“The facilitation of a greater level of intra-Africa trade across the region will certainly lead to a greater level of intra-Africa travel and tourism economic growth, which will bode well for the overall growth and development of the region,” adds Ramawela.

It’s important to travel

She says that through trade shows, the region should be promoted as a travel destination to boost tourism and the economy.

“There is also the necessary work that tourism products and Destination Marketing Organisations (DMOs) in the different countries have to do to promote their countries,” says Ramawela, adding the importance of educating locals first about the travel opportunities available.

“The beauty of travel is that it not only opens one’s eyes but also the mind and heart. It’s important to travel, especially to other parts of the region and the African continent as a whole so that we have a better understanding and appreciation of who we are as Africans and to also understand and see the opportunities first hand, for us to take advantage of them and develop our continent. After all, as they say 'travel enriches one’s mind, soul and view of the world',” adds Ramawela.

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