This article was written in September 2019 before the Covid-19 crisis hit Africa’s tourist industry. For a summary of how the pandemic has hit the sector read Coronavirus shuts down Africa’s tourist industry
Africa now has the world’s second fastest growing tourist industry as travel to the continent becomes cheaper and easier, while governments drive business tourism with new initiatives.
Travel and tourism remained a key driver of the African economy in 2018, accounting 8.1% of GDP, and contributing $194.2 billion to the region’s economy, a new report by African e-commerce company Jumia found.
The region’s tourism industry grew at a rate of 5.6% in 2018, second only to Asia Pacific, according to Jumia’s 2019 Hospitality Report. This compares to a global growth rate of 3.9% annually.
Around 67 million tourists flocked to Africa in 2018, a record 7% increase from 63 million arrivals in 2017 and 58 million in 2016.
From the souks of Marrakech to the quaint vineyards of the Cape, the top African tourist spots were Morocco and South Africa, with around 10 and 11 million arrivals per year.
More relaxed visa rules in Ethiopia coupled with improved transport infrastructure gave their tourist industry a staggering 48.6% boost in 2018, raking in a total of $7.4 billion.
The majority of foreign visitors were holiday-makers with 71% of tourist spending across the continent spent on leisure activities.
A new itinerary
The report also attributes burgeoning tourism numbers to a slew of government initiatives, especially in Kenya, Rwanda and South Africa to drive business tourism to the continent.
These include tourism development strategies such as MICE, where countries arrange events such as meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions to attract international business.
Yet Africa as a whole still occupies only a small slice of the international tourism market accounting for 62.9m (or about 5.1%) of the 1.2bn global tourism arrivals in 2016, according to a separate report by the Africa Tourism Monitor compiled by the African Development Bank.
As hotels cancel deals for new new developments and ‘clean their pipelines’, the hotel development industry is also slowing down, with pipeline activity dropping to 276 hotels with 45,861 rooms in 2019, down from 418 hotels with 76,322 rooms in 2018.
The airline making the most money in African skies was flagship UAE carrier Emirates, which earned over $837 million in 2018 with popular flights from Johannesburg, Cairo, Cape Town and Mauritius.
The most lucrative air route between April 2018 and March 2019 was from South Africa’s largest city Johannesburg to Persian Gulf hub Dubai, which generated $315.6 million in passenger revenues.
During the same period state-owned Angola Airlines and South African Airways were the only two African airlines making the top 10 most profitable air routes in Africa.
Top performing air routes from Luanda to Lisbon earned a cool $231.6 million, while flights from Cape Town to Johannesburg generated $185 million, the report said.
As countries scramble to grab a greater share of the intra-African tourism market, the dawn of Africa’s free trade agreement will give domestic travel a much-needed boost.
Realising the full potential of Africa’s continental free trade area (ACFTA) requires cooperation from all industry players, says Jumia’s Head of Travel Estelle Verdier.
“Governments have to be willing to eliminate visa requirements for African nationals traveling to their countries.”
“Ministries and other responsible partner organizations should create campaigns that will promote their local travel destinations and tourism offerings to attract more regional travellers,” she adds.
That said, African governments have come a long way in making intra-continental travel easier and more affordable.
Initiatives such as the creation of the East Africa Visa programme allowing travellers to apply for a visa online before visiting Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya are making these places evermore attractive to tourists, South African Tourism’s Acting Chief Executive Officer Sthembiso Dlamini said.
“Such collaborations are visionary. It is when we work together, pool our resources, partner and share our best knowledge that we can do much more.“