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Tourism industry will be key for Africa’s economic independence

• Published on 22 May 2014 • Category : Africa • Tags : tourism economy africa

Physically, Africa can be overwhelming and awe-inspiring. From the Cape of Good Hope’s rocky cliffs to the steady, massive Nile on to the vast, arid Sahara, Africa is home to nearly every geographic peculiarity, all of them striking. The culture and history, much of it pristinely preserved, offer a singular experience to any visitor.

For these reasons, the expansion of the tourism sector represents Africa’s next logical economic step. As the continent attempts to transform from a mining-focused, resource-reliant continent to one full of diversified, value-added industry, the tourism trade represents an area in which Africa, by way of its unrivaled geography and culture, already has a firm foundation. 

And according to a 2013 report from the World Bank, revving the tourist trade could be a huge boon to African employment and revenue. Noting that tourism has become a significant slice of many nations’ GDP pie, the report said that in sub-Saharan Africa alone, tourism could create 3.8 million jobs over the next decade. 

In many areas of the continent, the tourism trade is already setting high-water marks. In May, South Africa reported a record 9.6 million tourists visited the country in 2013, surpassing the previous year’s record. Nearly five percent of the South African workforce work in tourism, and the industry accounted for almost $9 billion to the country’s GDP. The same day, Rwanda, a smaller and more economically challenged nation, debuted numbers that reflected continued year-over-year increases in tourism revenue

While some African nations are already benefiting from the tourist trade, the World Bank also warned that “political support at the highest level for tourism is essential.” Many of the impediments to a tourism boom, including environmental protection, funneling of resources and investment to the tourism enterprise, and a secure and safe environment can all be facilitated by the government.

Zambia, for example, established a sovereign wealth fund in January that will oversee and allocate investment for tourism infrastructure, as well as other non-mining sectors. And this week, the country agreed on a uni-visa system with neighbor Zimbabwe (with whom it shares the famous Victoria Falls) to boost the tourist trade. Likewise Angola, Africa’s second-largest oil producer, plans investments in hotels and infrastructure across sub-Saharan Africa from its $5 billion sovereign wealth fund.

Despite this progress, though, there is still much left to do in Africa’s tourism sector. It must be easier for foreign and domestic investment to be channeled into tourism. Nations must be able to ensure a safe environment for the tourism trade, as well as vocational training for future travel-based employees. And finally, the constraints for tourists themselves -- accommodations (the World Bank reports that just 10 percent of African hotels meet international standards), air travel and tour operations -- must continue to evolve. 

As Africa undergoes its transformation, tourism will be a key factor in the economic independence. The mountains, the desert, the beaches are all there -- now Africa must endeavor to build a tourist industry to match its natural beauty.

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