Africa’s tourism potential

Trends, drivers, opportunities, and strategies

Tourists sit at the Mara Serena Safari Lodge, within the Masai Mara game reserve, southwest of Nairobi, Kenya, July 28, 2009. Picture taken July 28, 2009. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya - RC1A8B82F4A0

The tourism industry is playing an increasingly important role in the global economy, contributing 5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), 30 percent of service exports, and 235 million jobs. Indeed, each year, approximately 1 billion people travel internationally. By 2030, consumer spending on tourism, hospitality, and recreation in Africa is projected to reach about $261.77 billion, $137.87 billion more than in 2015. From 1998 to 2015, service exports, including of “industries without smokestacks” such as tourism, have grown about six times faster than merchandise exports in Africa.

Given these trends, the travel and tourism industry has significant potential in Africa, notably due to the continent’s richness in natural resources and its potential to further develop cultural heritage, e.g., music. However, except in a few countries, such as Mauritius and Seychelles, where the tourism sector’s share of the economy is particularly large, tourism in Africa is still at an early stage of development and strongly connected with more general and longstanding development challenges, including infrastructure and security.

Aware of the potential for tourism, most countries in the region have already drafted strategic plans to develop the sector as an economic opportunity and development catalyst. For example, Gambia, Kenya, South Africa, and Tanzania are all putting significant efforts into advancing travel and tourism development. Botswana, Mauritius, Rwanda, and South Africa are working particularly hard to improve their business environment for tourism investment.

The African Union and sub-regional communities have also put tourism at the top of their agendas. For example, the African Union has endorsed the continent’s Tourism Action Plan (TAP) developed by the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), renamed African Union Development Agency (AUDA). The TAP recognizes tourism development among priority sector strategies of AUDA across Africa and aims to make Africa the destination of the 21st century. The 15 members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have introduced a visa policy that enables free movement of people across member states, offering a larger market to international travelers.

While improvements have been achieved in various areas, especially at the local level, much more needs to be done by both the public and the private sectors to fully tap Africa’s potential in the tourism industry. This report starts with an overview of tourism development in Africa and explores some of the key constraints that have prevented this sector from maturing. It identifies important stakeholders and potential opportunities for its future development. It also provides illustrative examples of countries representative of different trajectories of tourism development. Finally, with attention to current major policy reforms, the report draws conclusions about the future of the tourism sector in Africa.

The report aims to offer business leaders an overview of Africa’s biggest opportunities and risks in the tourism sector, discussing trends, drivers, perspectives, and strategies for effective investment. It also provides policymakers with some solutions related to the areas that need to be improved to attract private investors, accelerate tourism development, and contribute to growth and poverty alleviation, facilitating the fulfillment of the Sustainable Development Goals and the African Union’s Agenda 2063.