African countries are welcoming more tourists than ever before

Visa and logistics were major challenges for those traveling to Cameroon for Afcon.
Visa and logistics were major challenges for those traveling to Cameroon for Afcon.
Image: AP Photo/Themba Hadebe
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Africa’s tourist spots were some of the fast-growing and popular destinations in the world last year. This is despite setbacks in recent years like the Arab Spring or high-profile disease outbreaks like Ebola. One of the reasons for that growth is an increase in the numbers of Africans traveling within the continent.

Growing at a rate of 6% per year, the total number of international tourist arrivals to Africa more than doubled between 1995 and 2014 as international tourist arrivals to Africa reached 56 million in 2014, a new report by United Nations Conference on Trade and Development shows.

Northern Africa is the main draw for international tourists as it received almost half of total international arrivals in Africa between 2011-2014. With arrivals in Africa concentrated across a handful of countries, Egypt (9.9  million), Morocco (9.8 million), South Africa (9.2 million) and Tunisia (6.8 million) recorded the highest average numbers of international tourist arrivals between 2011 and 2014. Those four countries alone accounted for more than 60% of all international tourist arrivals to Africa between 2011 and 2014.

In the past two decades, tourism export revenues have also risen three-fold, despite recent blows to the industry like the 2010 Arab Spring, to reach $47 billion in 2014 with average tourism export revenues per international tourist arrival rising from $580 in 1995–1998 to $850 in 2011–2014. While Northern Africa received the largest share of tourism export revenues between 2011 and 2014, Southern Africa earned the most tourism export revenues per arrival, with its tourism product described as “more upmarket.”

The share of Africans in the total international tourist arrivals has steadily increased with Africans now accounting for four in every 10 international visitors on the continent. But that share remains below the global average. To boost the regional share of tourist visitors, governments on the continent must focus on ”streamlined visa requirements,” open air routes and create targeted tourism policies, the report says.