External influencers have long determined travel and tourism to Africa. Tour developers and packagers, airlines, media, customers, hotel owners and operators — all from the developed world — have a huge hand in the type, nature and promotion of the tourism end product. But as the global travel and tourism industry slowly recovers from the Great Recession, with the recovery in emerging regions outpacing that of North America and Europe, now is a good time for Africa to assert itself as the ultimate determinant and carve new directions in tourism. Africans need not fear. The continent’s nearly one billion, generally upwardly mobile population is a formidable pool for local tourists and investors in the sector. External influencers will simply get with the program. In today’s flattened, technology-driven universe, that’s pretty much what’s beginning to happen in other sectors of the continent’s economy. And it’s precisely what Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade had in mind when he commissioned construction of the African Renaissance Monument in Dakar depicting a man rising triumphantly from a volcano with his arms wrapped around his wife and child. For all the controversy and ridicule it has provoked at home and abroad, the 160-foot statue — taller than the Statue of Liberty — is a popular backdrop in the photos of tourists. The 330-foot climb to the base of the statue; the exhibition, multimedia and conference rooms; and the observation room, located on the top of the man’s head, with its breathtaking view of the Atlantic Ocean, are part of the tourist attraction as well.
It’s also what the Tourism Trust Fund of Kenya had in mind when it recently launched a bird tourism product with a view toward enhancing Kenya’s potential as a bird tourism destination. In the battle for visitors and their hard currency, Africa is emerging as one of the fastest destinations for niche tourism. Bird tourism is a niche in point. Africa is hailed as one of the most popular destinations on the planet for bird watching. The bulk of current bird-related tourist activity is in the southern part of the continent, which boasts 920 species, or about 10 percent, of the world’s known species. However, more than 1,300 species, or 15 percent of the global bird population, exist in the east, especially in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. “This kind of niche marketing of an underexploited resource, promoting little-known areas to a large and high value market of specialized tourists, perfectly defines our mission as TTF,” Dan Kagagi, Ph.D., the Tourism Trust Fund’s CEO, said.
The picture of Africa as one of the world’s fastest-growing destinations for niche tourism hardly comes through in the World Economic Forum’s most recent (2010) Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index. The index is based on three categories of variables that facilitate or drive travel and tourism competitiveness: regulatory framework; business environment and infrastructure; and human, cultural and natural resources. Each of the three categories in turn comprises 14 “pillars” of travel and tourism competitiveness.
Of the 139 countries ranked in the index, Tunisia ranks the highest for Africa at 47th. It is followed by Mauritius at No. 53; South Africa at 66; Egypt at 75; Morocco at 78; Namibia at 84; Cape Verde at 89; Botswana at 91; The Gambia at 92; Rwanda at 102; Kenya at 103; Senegal at 104; Ghana at 108; Tanzania at 110; Zambia at 111; Algeria at 113; Uganda at 115; Swaziland at 116; Zimbabwe at 119; Benin at 120; Malawi, 121; Ethiopia 122; Libya 124; Cameroon 126; Madagascar at 127; Mozambique 128; Nigeria 130; Côte d’Ivoire 131; Burkina Faso 132; Mali 133; Lesotho 135; Mauritania 136; Burundi 137; Angola 138; Chad 139. All but Zimbabwe dropped from their 2009 ranking. The largest drop was seen by Mali, which ranked 119 in 2009. Zimbabwe rose from 121 in 2009.
Taking local responsibility to heart, a March 30 editorial in Tanzania’s The Citizen lambasted local officials for the country’s 12-point drop from 98th in 2009. “The country is endowed with natural tourist attractions that are unrivalled in the world. There is abundant wildlife and the scenic beauty is simply breathtaking. The beaches and historical sites are amazing. This is also the reason why Tanzania has several World Heritage sites. Even the WEF report has acknowledged that fact and said the country scores highly worldwide for its natural environment,” The Citizen said. “With all these endowments, we do not see why it should be impossible for the country to feature, at least, in the Top 50 in the global tourism ranking; or in the Top 5 in sub-Saharan Africa. The players in the industry need put their act together to take the country to a higher level, not only in tourism, but also in other sectors … Having a beautiful country is valueless if strategies are not put in place to exploit that potential.”