Tourism is a dynamic sector, which has been dubbed a “sunrise” sector that can always rapidly switch on for inclusive socio-economic growth. It also cuts across societal challenges and upheavals. The African Union (AU) Agenda 2063 and the 2030 United Nations (UN) Agenda for Sustainable Development, took special recognition of tourism as one of the engines of inclusive growth and development, including positive impacts on job creation, environmental preservation, and effective resources management.
Despite increases and unpredictable shocks from global terrorism and political instability, health pandemics and natural disasters, travel and tourism continue to grow. Africa boasts a rich and diverse cultural heritage, as well as natural assets in terms of landscapes, unique flora and fauna. Its heritage, if properly harnessed, should be able to position the continent as the preferred tourism destination. In addition, Africa remains one of the fastest-growing regions for the travel and tourism sector globally. For instance, in 2016, international tourist arrivals grew by 8% with a total of 65 million international tourists, according to the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) report of 2017. The recent socio-economic impact of tourism in Africa is summarised as follows:
- The continent’s foreign receipt in 2016 amounted to USD165.6bn, thereby contributing to about 7.8% of total Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
- In the employment sector, tourism sector directly supported about 9 million jobs, which is about 3 % of total employment in the continent in 2016, which is equivalent to 1 in 11 jobs in the continent’s economy. Africa’s aviation industry alone supports 6.9-million jobs and contributes $80bn to GDP on the continent.
- In 2016, Africa’s share of investment in travel and tourism was USD28.5bn, or 6.2% of total investment in the continent.
More so, a comparative analysis of tourism contribution to Africa’s GDP with other sectors shows that the importance of sustainable tourism cannot be over-emphasized. For example, agriculture used to be the heartbeat of the continent. But, its trickle down effects is becoming bearish. According to World Bank national accounts data, and OECD National Accounts data of 2017, the decline in agriculture production, export and crash in the prices of agriculture products, mainly primary commodity, has seen the value added net output of the agriculture sector on the decrease. The GDP contribution in forestry, hunting, and fishing, as well as cultivation of crops and livestock production from 2007 to 2016 in Sub-Saharan Africa has been on the decline. In 2007, agriculture contribution was about 20% and rose to 21.3% two years later. Since 2010, the contribution of agriculture to the continent’s GDP dwindled to about 18% in 2016.
In contrast, from 2007 to 2016, tourism contribution to the continent’s GDP has been in the upward trend, with growth of 4.5% per year. Tourism contribution rose up to 7.8% of total GDP in 2016.
With growing unemployment in Africa, especially amongst the youth, tourism has the ability to accommodate wide range of job opportunities from technical to soft, to unskilled, rural, semi-urban and urban. Therefore, it is pertinent to enhance the existing policies and frameworks, to leverage its diverse natural capital and cultural heritage. The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) 2016 report predicts that tourism arrivals in Africa will reach 134 million by 2030, from the present-day level of 65 million. This significant expansion 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 for the continent, there is need for an conducive environment that would facilitate infrastructure development, investment in human capacity development and growth in the Africa market, to promote sustainable tourism and regional integration.
From the creation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) to the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), Africa’s regional integration agenda for the economic transformation of the continent has been on the cards, with emphasis on the ideals of regionalism and corridor approach. The continent’s programmatic intervention in the tourism sector is implemented through the NEPAD Tourism Action Plan (TAP) - a framework to foster sustainable tourism on the continent. The NEPAD TAP was developed under the guidance of the African Ministers of Tourism, who meet annually under the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Commission for Africa (CAF) and was adopted at the 3rd General Assembly of the African Union in July 2004, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Cognizant of tourism as one of the Africa’s engines of growth and development during the recent African Union Assembly in January 2018, Africa’s Heads of State and Government appreciated the efforts and contributions of the NEPAD Agency and its partners, through the implementation of the NEPAD Tourism Action Plan. The Union further requested the NEPAD Agency and its partners to update the action plan.
In response to the Decision of the Heads of State, the updated action plan will seek to link the implementation of relevant regional frameworks and programmes, to optimize visibility of the tourism sector, as well as to enhance the growth of the sector. These frameworks include: the 2012 adoption of a Framework, Roadmap and Architecture for fast-tracking the establishment of the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA); Action Plan for Boosting Intra-African Trade (BIAT), and Program for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA). On one hand, it will aim to encourage state-business relationship, through Public-Private Partnership and to dove-tail the operationalisation and domestication of the Open Skies for Africa; the African Common Passport; the AU Agenda 2063, and the UN Sustainable Development Goals on the other hand.