Africa used to be a place that businesspeople visited to keep track of their investments or set out into the unknown to tap the potential that emerging markets have to offer. As soon as business was wrapped up, though, they would hightail it out of the continent. It was no one’s first choice as a holiday destination unless one was brave enough to endure a trip off the beaten path to rough out a local safari tour in an African country that most people, sadly, couldn’t even find on a map.
“But,” explains Avukile Mabombo, Group Marketing Manager for Marriott International, South Africa, “the African travel industry has quietly been undergoing a metamorphosis, becoming more accessible as a holiday destination. The metamorphosis is by no means complete but, with current investment projects underway, transformation is sure to speed up helping the mother continent emerge as a legitimate vacationing option, shifting higher and higher up the global bucket list.”
Picture this: After many hours of travel you want nothing more than a hot shower and a comfy bed to rest your weary bones. You travel in style and you expect nothing less and, thus, on first thought, it wouldn’t seem strange to wake up in a meticulously decorated room in a double bed with 600 thread count Egyptian cotton linen and a 50 inch television with international cable TV keeping you in touch with current affairs around the globe, not to mention the free high speed WiFi at your disposal should the urge come up to surf the web.
You probably expect that this description relates to a hotel somewhere in a sophisticated environment in the developed world – from the USA to Europe and almost all Asian countries these days.
But, in fact, you’re not in any of those countries. You’re in Africa, where you are never more than an hour away in any direction from an adventurous experience that no other continent has to offer. “Whether you want to sit on a misty slope amongst gorillas, bungee jump from a great height, or take your chances in the Devil’s Pool at the edge of the Victoria Falls, listening to the mighty roar as millions of litres of water push past you with incredible force before disappearing over the edge down into a cloud of mist producing brilliant rainbows in its wake, Africa is quickly becoming the adventure travel destination of choice,” Mabombo says.
According to African Tourism Monitor, a report published by the statistical department of the African Development Bank, the continent received foreign cash injections of US$ 36.2 billion, creating 9.3 million jobs in 2017. The World Bank, too, is not blind to the economic opportunities offered by the continent, and has injected millions in support aid to upgrade airports and other vital forms of infrastructure, making it easier for travellers with much needed foreign currency to reach their destinations hassle-free.
Not surprisingly, China seems to be its biggest customer as the continent opens up its borders to Chinese tourists through visa-free travel. China has courted many an African country by means of investment and it would seem that Africa it reciprocating by way of incentives. Governments are also recognising the potential for regional travel by Africans into other African countries – something that is becoming particularly important as the middle class grows on the continent.
Africa got a bad rap in the past due to civil wars, ebola, malaria, terrorism and crime. But many governments are realising that there is a huge need to counter this perception and are launching campaigns to highlight the continent as the next great tourism frontier. Tourism currently makes up about 9% of GDP for the continent, and there is clearly an opportunity to increase this.
According to Mabombo, “The world’s big hospitality companies are sitting up and taking notice. Marriott International, for instance, the world’s largest hotel company, is represented extensively on the continent, and has significant plans for expanding into more destinations. Through South African-based Protea Hotels by Marriott, hotels can be found in South Africa, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, Uganda, Tanzania, Nigeria, and Ghana.”
All this bodes well for the future of Africa in the leisure tourism space – keep an eye on it!