Building infrastructure to spur intra-African trade and tourism
African Heads of States and Governments recognize the potential contribution of tourism to the growth and transformation of the continent, given that Africa is endowed with rich and diverse cultures, landscapes, and biodiversity. Consequently, tourism is one of the strategic areas in the New Partnership for Economic Development (NEPAD) framework, and is identified there as a key driver for socio-economic growth.
To foster the development of tourism in the continent, the NEPAD Tourism Action Plan (TAP) was formulated under the guidance of African Ministers of Tourism, who convene annually under the auspices of the World Tourism Organization (WTO) Commission for Africa (CAF). The TAP was adopted at the 3rd General Assembly of the African Union (AU) in July 2004 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Since the adoption of the TAP, the continent has been experiencing growth in the tourism sector despite facing major challenges, including a serious infrastructure deficit.
TAP was primarily established to harness Africa’s vast endowment of geographical assets and cultural heritage through promotion of the tourism sector. Indeed, the continent’s abundant natural resources have contributed an average of 5.2% annually to the continent’s economic growth over the past decade, including through foreign exchange earnings.
In 2013 alone, the continent’s receipts from international tourism were USD 34.2 billion. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that tourism as a service sector has been acknowledged as a driver of socio-economic development and growth in Africa. Moreover, it has been identified as such in the African Union (AU) Agenda 2063, which sets out a long-term strategy to “optimize use of Africa’s resources for the benefit of all Africans” and to accelerate development and integration across the continent.
Despite the progress made in the tourism industry, most African countries have yet to reach their full potential. A myriad challenges face the tourism sector: the urbanization of the continent is faster than anywhere else in the world and by 2025 half of the African population will live in cities.
The issue of urbanization will bring serious challenges of integrated waste management, transport and pollution, which will impact touristic activities. Additionally, slow visa facilitation; low investment levels; the capacity gap in the hospitality service industry; poor connectivity and infrastructure are major impediments to tourism growth and sustainability. For instance, what should be a normal 6-hour trip from West to Southern Africa can take as long as 48 hours due to poor air connectivity.
On the other hand, Africa is experiencing low levels of intra-regional economic exchange, while it also has the smallest share of global trade of all regions. Africa is the least integrated continent in the world.
Infrastructure inefficiencies are costing Africa billions of dollars annually and are stunting growth. Bridging the gap in infrastructure is vital for economic advancement and sustainable development. However, this can only be achieved through subregional and continental cooperation and solution finding. The Program for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA) encourages regional cooperation as a means of building mutually beneficial infrastructure. It helps to strengthen the ability of countries to trade and establish regional value chains for increased competitiveness, as well as the free movement of African citizens. As the unique strategic and sectoral framework to accelerate the physical integration of the continent, PIDA promotes the development of infrastructure projects in the areas of transport, energy, information and telecommunications technologies, as well as transboundary water supplies.
The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) 2014 report, Tourism Towards 2030, predicts that tourism arrivals in Africa will reach 134 million by 2030, from the present-day level of 65 million. This is a strong growth that could significantly contribute to the GDP, job creation, and transformation of African countries and the continent at large.
However, for this projection to become a reality, there is a need for an enabling environment that would facilitate infrastructure development, investment in human capacity development and growth in the Africa market to promote regional tourism.
In this regard, the importance of infrastructure to tourism development and growth in the continent cannot be over-emphasized hence PIDA implementation is imperative.
This will require building strong partnerships and the collective effort and actions of African governments, the private sector, civil society, regional and continental institutions, as well as development partners.
This article appears in the November 2014 issue of the NEPAD Newsletter.