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African tourists emerge as powerhouse for tourism on the continent, says UNCTAD report


African tourists emerge as powerhouse for tourism on the continent, says UNCTAD report

African tourists emerge as powerhouse for tourism on the continent, says UNCTAD report
Photo credit: BBC

Four out of 10 international tourists in Africa come from the continent itself, according to the new UNCTAD Economic Development in Africa Report 2017: Tourism for Transformative and Inclusive Growth.

In sub-Saharan Africa, this number increases to two out of every three tourists whose travels originate on the continent. Data backing this key finding show that, contrary to perception, Africans themselves are increasingly driving tourism demand in Africa.

Tourism in Africa is a flourishing industry that supports more than 21 million jobs, or 1 in 14 jobs, on the continent. Over the last two decades, Africa has recorded robust growth, with international tourist arrivals and tourism revenues growing at 6 per cent and 9 per cent, respectively, each year between 1995 and 2014.

Focusing on tourism for transformative and inclusive growth, this year’s report encourages African countries to harness the dynamism of the tourism sector.

By collecting and comparing data from two different periods, 1995-1998 and 2011-2014, the report reveals that international tourist arrivals to Africa increased from 24 million to 56 million. Tourism export revenues more than tripled, increasing from $14 billion to approximately $47 billion. As a result, tourism now contributes about 8.5 per cent to the continent’s gross domestic product (GDP).

The First Ten-Year Implementation Plan of the African Union’s Agenda 2063 aims at doubling the contribution of tourism to the continent’s GDP. To meet this target, tourism needs to grow at a faster and stronger pace.

“Tourism is a dynamic sector with phenomenal potential in Africa. Properly managed, it can contribute immensely to diversification and inclusion for vulnerable communities,” said Mukhisa Kituyi, the Secretary-General of UNCTAD.

To realize the potential of intraregional tourism for the continent’s economic growth, African Governments should take steps to liberalize air transport, promote the free movement of persons, ensure currency convertibility and, crucially, recognize the value of African tourism and plan for it. These strategic measures can have relatively fast and tangible impacts. In Rwanda, the abolition of visa requirements for fellow members of the East African Community in 2011 helped increase intraregional tourists from 283,000 in 2010, to 478,000 in 2013.

Another important theme highlighted in the report is the mutually beneficial relationship between peace and tourism. Peace is of course fundamental for tourism. The mere appearance of instability in a region can deter tourists, leading to devastating, long-lasting economic consequences. However, the perception of danger does not always correspond with reality.

The 2014 Ebola outbreak in Western Africa had a very high cost in terms of tourism numbers and revenue lost across the entire continent. Despite being limited to relatively few countries in the western part of the continent, tourist arrivals and bookings fell in countries as far from the outbreak as South Africa and the United Republic of Tanzania.

The report notes that the economic impacts of political instability can be quite significant and long-lasting. For example, following political instability in Tunisia, total tourism receipts in 2009-2011 declined by 27 per cent on average, from $3.5 billion in 2009 to $2.5 billion in 2011.

Addressing safety and security concerns and swift responses to crises by African Governments and regional institutions are paramount to the growth of tourism in Africa. Promoting strategies aimed at improving Africa’s image in the global media are also critical in ensuring the sector’s recovery after conflict or political unrest.

During the next decade, tourism’s continued growth is expected to generate an additional 11.7 million jobs in Africa. Furthermore, where tourism thrives, women thrive. In Africa, more than 30 per cent of tourism businesses are run by women; and 36 per cent of its tourism ministers are women, which is the highest share in the world.

Creating firm links between tourism, the agriculture and infrastructure sectors, ecotourism and the medical and cultural tourism market segments can foster diversification into higher value activities and distribute incomes more broadly. To unlock this potential, African Governments should adopt measures that support local sourcing, encourage local entities’ participation in the tourism value chain and boost infrastructure development. This continued investment into the tourism sector in Africa could lift millions out of poverty, while also contributing to peace and security in the region.

Facts and Figures

Tourism sector in Africa: Stylized facts

  • Since 1995, the tourism sector has expanded significantly, with the number of international tourist arrivals in Africa doubling from 24 million in 1995-1998 to 48 million in 2005-2008, and increasing to 56 million in 2011-2014. 

  • Tourism export revenues, which include inbound tourism expenditures and international passenger transport services, have experienced a similar growth trajectory. Tourism export revenues more than tripled, increasing from $14 billion in 1995-1998 to $41 billion in 2005-2008, and rising to $47 billion in 2011-2014. Moreover, tourism export revenues per arrival increased from an average of $580 in 1995-1998 to $850 in 2005-2008, and remained unchanged in 2011-2014. 

  • The countries with the highest average annual rates of growth in tourism export revenues in 

    1995-2014 were Angola, 26 per cent; Cabo Verde, 18 per cent; and Ghana, 18 per cent.

  • Africa’s tourism sector has shown strong growth, doubling from 6 per cent in 1995-1998 to 13 per cent in 2005 -2008, but with more volatility following the global financial crisis (2008/09). Tourism export revenues peaked in 2012 and also appear to be more resilient to shocks than other financial flows such as foreign direct investment or remittances. 

  • In 2011-2014, the highest average numbers of international tourist arrivals were recorded in Egypt (9.9 million), Morocco (9.8 million), South Africa (9.2 million) and Tunisia (6.8 million). These four countries accounted for 64 per cent of all international tourist arrivals in Africa in 2011-2014, highlighting the high degree of concentration of arrivals. 

  • Morocco was the only African country to surpass 10 million international tourist arrivals in 2015. 

  • Africa in 2015 held a 4.4 per cent share in worldwide tourism arrivals, and accounted for a 2.3 per cent share of worldwide tourism receipts.

  • In 2011-2014, Northern Africa was the main tourist destination in Africa, registering the highest number and share of international tourist arrivals (47 per cent), followed by Southern Africa (22 per cent) and Eastern Africa (20 per cent). 

  • The East African Community and the Economic Community of Central African States are the regional economic communities with the strongest growth rates in arrivals in 1995-2014, at 8 per cent per annum. 

  • The number of international tourist arrivals in Africa is forecast to grow to 134 million by 2030, at an expected growth rate of 5 per cent between 2010 and 2030.

  • In Africa, domestic tourists are likely to greatly outnumber international tourists, a reflection of global trends.

Tourism’s contribution to economic growth

  • Tourism’s total contribution to Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP), which includes direct and indirect contributions, increased from an average $69 billion in 1995-1998 to $166 billion in 2011-2014, that is, from 6.8 per cent of GDP to 8.5 per cent of GDP. While the contribution of tourism to GDP has been increasing, it is still below the global average (10 per cent of GDP).

  • Tourism’s direct contribution to GDP primarily reflects the economic activity generated by industries such as hotels, travel agencies, airlines and other passenger transportation services and restaurants, and related leisure industries. Tourism’s direct contribution to Africa’s GDP was $30 billion in 1995-1998 (2.9 per cent of real GDP), increasing to $70 billion in 2011-2014 (3.5 per cent of real GDP). 

  • By 2015, the sector’s direct contribution to the continent’s GDP had increased to $73 billion and is forecast to rise to $121 billion by 2026. In terms of growth, the annual average rate of growth of tourism’s direct contribution to real GDP was 2.6 per cent in 2011-2014.

  • In 2011-2014, tourism attracted on average capital investment of $26 billion (1.8 per cent of GDP), rising to about $30 billion in 2016.

Tourism is a driver of growth in small island developing States

  • Tourism is a key sector in African small island developing States. In fact, the three most tourism-driven countries in terms of the sector’s contribution to national GDP – Seychelles (62 per cent), Cabo Verde (43 per cent) and Mauritius (27 per cent) – all belong to this category. 

  • These mostly relatively small economies are also among the most dependent on the export of services.

Tourism and international trade in services

  • The share of the services sector in Africa’s GDP was 50.5 per cent on average in 2011-2014, making it the biggest contributor to output. 

  • In 2011-2014, tourism export revenues accounted for 46 per cent of services exports and 7 per cent of total exports. However, in 2005-2008, tourism export revenues accounted for 53 per cent of services exports.

  • Tourism export revenues grew strongly at 8.9 per cent per year in 1995-2014, while services exports grew at 8.3 per cent per year in the same period.

Tourism and employment

  • Tourism’s total contribution to employment in 2011-2014, generated more than 21 million jobs, or roughly 1 out of 14 jobs in Africa (7.1 per cent of total employment). While this is a considerable number of jobs and a large share, the share is below the global average (1 out of 11 jobs generated by tourism). 

  • Tourism generated 8.8 million jobs directly; this is forecast to rise to 11.7 million jobs, an increase of 2.5 per cent per year, between 2016 and 2026.

  • Destinations with the strongest growth in tourism employment in 2014 compared with 2013 were Egypt (+89,000), Madagascar (+84,000), Nigeria (+79,000) and South Africa (+59,000).

Tourism and gender 

  • On a global level, women make up between 60 and 70 per cent of the tourism labour force, and 50 per cent of the sector’s employees are aged 25 or younger. 

  • This trend is also reflected in Africa, as women comprise 47 per cent of employees of the hotels and restaurants sector; at the management level, the tourism sector in Africa has a higher percentage of female employers (31 per cent) than any other sector (21 per cent overall).

Strengthening intersectoral linkages and tackling leakages

  • South Africa’s higher degree of leakages, compared with Tunisia, Indonesia and Thailand, is striking. In South Africa, foreign value added sources account for roughly half of the final demand by the hotels and restaurants sector (taken as a proxy for the tourism sector), compared with only 20-25 per cent in the three comparators.

Intraregional tourism in Africa

  • Four out of 10 international tourists in Africa originate from within the continent, and this share has been rising (from 34.4 per cent in 2010 to 40.3 per cent in 2013).

  • Despite this increase, the share is still below the global average. Globally, about 4 out of 5 international tourists originate from the same region, suggesting that in Africa, the share is likely to rise further.

  • In Northern Africa, 2 out of 10 international tourists come from within the continent; in sub-Saharan Africa the figure is about 2 out of 3; in both subregions these flows are growing steadily.

  • Intraregional tourism (tourism within regional economic communities) matters, especially in the Southern African Development Community and the East African Community. In the former, about 64 per cent of all international tourist arrivals come from fellow member States, compared with about 33 per cent in the latter. This share was stable from 2010 to 2013 in the Southern African Development Community, compared with the East African Community, Arab Maghreb Union and Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, whose share expanded during that period.

  • If 12 African countries were to implement the 1999 Yamoussoukro Decision, Open Skies for Africa could create an extra 155,000 jobs, result in an increase of almost 5 million passengers, contribute almost $1.3 billion to the continent’s GDP and generate $1 billion in consumer benefits.

Tourism and sectoral targets of the African Union

  • In the First Ten-Year Implementation Plan 2014-2023 of Agenda 2063, full implementation of an African tourism strategy and the establishment of an African tourism organization were envisaged, with a target to at least double the contribution of tourism to GDP in real terms from 2014 to 2023. 

  • Given that the total contribution of tourism to GDP increased from 6.1 per cent in 1995 to 8.3 per cent in 2015, with a peak of 9.9 per cent in 2007, it will be challenging to achieve the target by 2023. The sector would need to grow much faster than GDP and more rapidly than it has since the global financial crisis, implying that Africa should continue to raise levels of investment in tourism if it is to achieve the target.


Tourism as a vehicle for promoting structural transformation

Due to its cross-sectoral nature, tourism can play a role in the promotion of structural transformation in Africa: 

  • Tourism can serve as a critical driver of inclusive growth, job opportunities and wealth creation, through industry and services trade and strengthening intersectoral linkages.

  • Tourism can foster greater economic diversification and enterprise development, which can increase resilience to external economic shocks.

  • African countries can implement national long-term economic diversification plans, including tourism, within the context of the structural transformation of the economy.

  • African countries can reduce and remove visa constraints to foster deeper regional integration.

  • Regional economic communities should enhance efforts to foster joint marketing, packaging and promotion of cross-border attractions.

  • Regional economic communities must build on existing efforts to foster joint projects for infrastructure development and investment, such as promoting cross-border investment in hotels, airports and roads, for example, and at the national level engage multiple stakeholders in capacity-building for those working in the tourism industry (Sustainable Development Goals 8, 12, 14 and 17).

  • Africa must optimize the role of tourism as an engine and catalyst for regional integration and inclusive growth through deeper regional cooperation.

» Data visualisations: Key statistics of EDAR 2017: “Tourism for transformative and inclusive growth”


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