Africa Tourism Report 2013: More Tourists Visit Africa Each Year, Boosting Economic Growth and Making the Continent Competitive with Other Regions

Latest Issue: 
  • 2013


  • Africa has the potential with its cultural and natural resources to outpace other regions in attracting valuable tourism dollars
  • But entrepreneurs need transparency, roads and electricity to help them build and expand tourist destinations
  • A new report outlines constraints and offers solutions to strengthen and promote Africa’s Tourism sector

WASHINGTON, October 3, 2013—A new World Bank report, “Tourism in Africa: Harnessing Tourism for Improved Growth and Livelihoods,” says that African countries can compete with other tourist-rich regions of the world if they can effectively plan for and integrate tourism into  their economies.

Countries around the world have benefited from tourism as international global arrivals have grown. For example, from 1980 to 2000 arrivals in the Asia Pacific grew from 8% to 22% contributing to economic growth and improved livelihoods. During the same period, Africa’s market share for global tourism grew from 3% (1980) to 5% (2010).

To close this gap, the report calls on African governments and the private sector to work together to address obstacles such as land access and visa regulation to expand tourism opportunities, transform business climates and energize job creation, especially for women and youth.

“Africa’s mountains, savannahs and rivers, and cultural events such as music, dance and festivals are far above the natural assets found in other regions,” says Iain Christie, one of the report’s co-authors. “With these natural attributes, tourism can play an enormous role in development. But to do so it must be integrated into each country’s economy and government structure and be seen as a benefit by everyone, from the president, to the ministers to the general population.”

“Tourism in Africa” is the first World Bank report to comprehensively examine tourism throughout SSA and to recommend practical, evidence-based measures to unleash the sector’s economic and development power across the continent.

It shows how Botswana, Cape Verde, Namibia, South Africa and Tanzania among other countries have high potential for tourism expansion over the next five years, and argues that many SSA countries are on the verge of tourism success.

A powerful development path

Tourism is one of the largest and fastest growing sectors of the world economy, and tourism in Africa is ripe for development, the report notes.

For example, the number of tourists arriving in SSA has grown over 300% since 1990, with 2012 marking a high of 33.8 million tourists who visited the region. Income generated from tourism has also climbed: Receipts from hotels, tours and other attractions in 2012 amounted to over US$36 billion and directly contributed just over 2.8% to the region’s GDP, according to the report.

This boost in tourism is occurring just as economic growth is exploding across the African continent. Over the last five years, real GDP rose an average 4.9% – faster than the 3% global average.  As a result of the recent economic good health in SSA countries, global hotel chains are poised to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in Africa over the coming years to meet rising demand from both international tourists and the continent’s own fast-growing middle class, the report notes.

“Africa is an important emerging growth market and despite political uncertainty in parts of the region, we continue to see demand for growth of all of our brands throughout the continent,” says Hassan Ahdab, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Vice-President and Regional Director of Operations for Africa & Indian Ocean region. “Starwood will increase its African portfolio by nearly 30% with 12 new hotels set to open over the next three years, adding nearly 3,000 guest rooms to the continent and creating thousands of local employment opportunities.” 

Current constraints

At the same time, the expansion of tourism in SSA faces a number of obstacles. Issues such as land ownership and availability, and how land rights are transferred, are central to business and tourism development. Other constraints such as access to finance for investors, taxes on tourism investments, low levels of tourism skills among Africa’s population, lack of security, safety and high crime,  and bureaucratic processes are present in varying degrees in SSA countries. The report provides steps to overcome each of these obstacles.

Creating a path for growth

To understand better which SSA destinations are the highest performers and why, the report presents a typology of destinations, which ranks the 48 SSA countries by level of tourism development, ranging from pre-emergent (those countries recovering from or engaged in civil war) to consolidating (countries with relatively mature tourism sectors), and provides recommendations appropriate for countries at each stage of tourism development.

The report shows how countries that are scaling-up tourism need to invest in promotion and marketing, should take steps to enhance their image, and should provide incentives to investors, while those counties working to deepen their success need to diversify their tourism offerings, address seasonality, and manage growth strategically.

Learning from success

The report presents 24 tourism case studies from a wide range of destinations, dating from the mid-1970s to the mid-2000s, each chosen to illustrate a particular challenge or success and the effects of certain planning decisions. The cases illustrate good practice and lessons learned from countries that promoted tourism as a source of growth and poverty alleviation.

They include large projects based on broad-scale land development (such as Turkey’s South Antalya) or citywide programs (such as Cancún or Dubai), cases that focus on specific activities (nature conservancies in Namibia, mountaineering in Kenya), and smaller cases that are typically individual islands, resorts or activities (such as Nihiwatu, Indonesia, or Jungle Bay, Dominica).

The report describes SSA’s many tourism successes and urges governments to form alliances with the private sector—and the private sector to partner with government at local, regional and national levels. Together they can plan and develop tourism infrastructure, increase transparency in land ownership and create a business-friendly environment for tour operators and other companies. When sustainably managed, tourism fuels economic transformation, accelerates reform, triggers infrastructure improvements, and empowers women and minorities in countries throughout Africa.