Improving Tourism in Sub-Saharan Africa

From the perspective of the tourism industry, Africa can be divided into two groups: the countries of North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa. The North African group of countries (comprising of Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and Canary Islands) are generally inexpensive and are of the mass tourism kind. They are widely known to Russian and Ukranian tourists. On the other hand, virtually nothing is known about the Sub-Saharan Africa group of countries to the tourists from the former CIS countries.

The tourism industry of Sub-Saharan Africa is the most intensely growing sector of the global economy. While the volume of international tourism in the world grew by only 5.5% in 2010, in the case of Africa, this figure exceeded 10%. More specifically, the growth rate for Mozambique was 37%, for Kenya it was more than 26%, for South Africa 11% and for Seychelles it was 7%.

These achievements are the absolute world record achieved by any continent over the past ten years. One of the main causes for this situation is an extremely high profitability of African destinations for foreign travel companies. Meanwhile, only a maximum of ten, out of thousands of travel agencies in Moscow recognize African areas as a priority. The same situation is observed in Kiev and other cities.

The main obstacle for tourism in Africa is that the potentiawl of the continent is not exactly known to tourists as well as travel companies. There is a widely held stereotype that Africa is something negative in terms of health and infrastructure. This is not entirely true. There are many first-class hotels in Africa, including the category of VIP hotels; and many opportunities are available for active and extreme forms of recreation.

Today, African-tourism is rapidly developing. There is a rapidly growing demand for beach holidays in Kenya and Tanzania (After the animated film “Madagascar”, there is a growing demand on this island as well!). The enormous flow of tourism in recent times has been caused by a revolution in Arab North Africa. This may even affect the influx of tourists in Central and Southern Africa, taking into account the vast natural resources and the availability of opportunities for business development in coastal areas.

First of all, I should mention, that countries such as Congo, Kenya and Cote d’Ivoir haven’t been mentioned even once in Ukrainian and Russian media coverage during the last two years (not taking into consideration the latest events in Cote d’Ivoir). The media is very interest based and North Africa is much more of an interest to Ukraine and Russia than other parts of the continent. The explanation is simple – historically left ties from the Soviet Union past.

So, what can be done in this regard to improve the image of Sub-Saharan Africa countries in Eastern Europe (which is Number 1 according to the quantity of tourists, coming to Egypt, Tunisia and other North African countries)? The answer lies in, firstly, the need for changing the image of the African continent in the international arena and secondly, the need for creating the appropriate legal infrastructure for attracting tourists (i.e. visa liberalization) and for promoting and simplifying the growth and development of small and medium enterprises (SMEs), because SMEs are the main drivers of change in the economy of the country as much as in the society.

There is a huge need for developing a tourism infrastructure in Central and Southern African countries, which will lead to creation of new jobs and also ensure that you [as a traveler] can always be sure, that your money would go directly to local people’s pockets. For example, there is a possibility of organizing small family-run hostels, BB, pansions, providing accommodation for tourists coming to the country. It doesn’t matter whether the place is a desert or a beach – there are always ways and possibilities of attracting tourists. The reasons to come may be different:- green tourism (may be a better term for safari), clean beaches, untouched nature, romantic desert, heritage of the mankind etc.

All these measures demand not only political will, but also funding – money. Research and Development projects and policies always bring “fruits”, but in a long term perspective, thus changes have to be started now in order to achieve the results as soon as possible.

Blogging and social networks have recently become a very popular and cheap way of advertising a country among a select group of people (such as scholars, policy makers, officials, interested people), which can be called “creating a positive image” blogging. The policy can also be used in the worldwide-known media sources, BUT very importantly, without using such clichés as ‘Darkness’ or ‘Safari’, the words ‘Zanzibar’, ‘Masai’, ‘Zulu’, ‘Zambezi’, ‘Congo’, ‘Nile’, ‘Big’, ‘Sky’, ‘Shadow’, ‘Drum’, ‘Sun’ or ‘Bygone’, ‘Timeless’, ‘Primordial’ and ‘Tribal’ (quoting famous article of GRANTA magazine “How to Write About Africa”).

The other example of creating a positive image can be filmmaking. To make a short-metre movie does not cost much but can bring good results (I’m not talking here about millions of dollars in expenditure on film production). International audiences are always interested in seeing how Africans present themselves, and not the huge movie producing Hollywood companies (remember about clichés!). Besides, there are not many movies in Europe about Africa, which have been especially made by locals themselves.

Usually, the media only covers what is unusual and abnormal rather than typical things and normal everyday life. Thus, if you try to change the policy there is a huge need for quality journalism, writing not only about “attractive” things.

Iana Roginska


AAE is a volunteer-run organisation coordinated by a network of national teams.

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