Into Africa: Arriving as tourists, departing as investors
Judith Farrell visited Ghana, in West Africa, for the first time last October. The trip was a birthday present from her daughter, Nsenga. In addition to the vastness of the country, the busy al fresco markets, the overwhelming poverty that was, nevertheless, belied by the people’s pride and perseverance, what she will never forget is the strength of the human spirit and body she saw in the holding rooms of Elmira Castle in Cape Coast. The castle, now an historic landmark, is one of the remaining structures on the African continent where captured Africans were held, inspected, then loaded on ships to become slaves in the Americas.
“As I walked in the room the first thing that hit me was the strong smell—a mix of human waste, remains, sweat and blood,” says Farrell, a Bronx, N.Y., resident. “The place had no windows except for a very tiny opening near the roof that was the only source of sunlight and air. How did anybody survive?”
African-Americans increasingly are traveling to Africa in search of adventure, history and cultural connections. In addition to Ghana, popular destinations are Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia and South Africa, which became very attractive after the collapse of that country’s system of apartheid, or racial separation, in 1994. “In the last 15 years I have seen a shift in the perception of Africa and that has a lot to do with South Africa’s success and the boom of information on the Internet,” says Georgina Lorerncz, founder of African Travel Seminars, a Bethesda, Md., agency that customizes tours to African destinations.
Once they land in Africa, Black Americans discover investment opportunities Lorerncz says. “In addition to [experiencing] cultural awakenings, African-Americans are investing in orphanages and schools,” she says. They’re also taking advantage of opportunities for import-export trade, she says. She cites the example of Steve Wallace, owner of The Omanhene Cocoa Bean Company (a Ghanaian cocoa farm), who sells chocolates made in Wisconsin under the Omanhene brand.
It is this array of yet-to-be-discovered resources and opportunities that propelled Mona Davids to create Unforgettable Africa: Southern Africa Tourism Roadshow. Davids is president and CEO of the U.S.-South Africa Corporate Council and oversees its Tourism Committee. She also is the founder of Azania Holdings International, a consulting firm based in New York and South Africa. The first annual Roadshow was launched in New York in March and traveled to Boston, Washington, D.C., and Miami. “The Roadshow was created to promote tourism to the southern Africa region, especially to Botswana, Tanzania and Namibia. You already have African-Americans investing their time and money in Ghana, where they have set up Internet cafes, bed-and-breakfasts, schools and are exporting African products such as shea butter, coffee and textiles,” she says.
The presence of African-American investors in the southern African market is long overdue, she notes. “Tourism is a big part of the economic development of Africa, and if more people travel to Africa we can pierce the veil of Africa as the Dark Continent,” she says.
The 2005 documentary, “Africa Open for Business,” which was produced with funding from the World Bank, makes a case for investing in Africa by chronicling the experiences of 10 entrepreneurs, including non-Black foreign investors. It concludes with the statement that “investing in Africa remains high risk but, surprisingly, Africa offers the highest return on direct investment in the world.” Davids considers this statement a major selling point for
the African continent. The second Unforgettable Africa Roadshow, which will focus on tourism on the entire continent, is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 23 to Oct. 3 and will visit San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle.
The growing popularity of African tourism is attracting major American air carriers. In February, Delta Air Lines announced plans to offer direct service between the United States and Africa beginning in December, a move that would make it the first major U.S. airline to offer these flights. If approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation, effective December Delta will serve Johannesburg, South Africa, from Atlanta, with a stopover in Dakar, Senegal. For the moment, travel to Africa from the U.S. requires connecting in Europe to a European carrier. Currently, only two African airlines serve the United States directly: South African Airways and Egypt Air.
Top Africa Destinations & Key Web Sites
The Africa Guide
Www.africaguide.com. Offers information on all the countries on the continent through their history, food, culture, languages and tourist attractions.
The National Black Tourism Network
Www.tourism-network.net. Specializes in tours of the African diaspora.
The National Association of Black Hotel Owners, Operators and Developers
Odyssey Couleur magazine
What Blacks Spend on Transportation, Travel & Lodging
(in billions of dollars)
Source: “The Buying Power of Black America,” Target Market News