One clear opportunity for growth in the tourism sector is intra- African travel: Africans travelling within Africa. There is growing momentum to ease regional travel in recent years as it is notoriously difficult for Africans to travel within their own continent – especially for the purpose of leisure. In 2016 The African Development Bank (AFBD) released its Africa visa openness report that confirmed it was easier for North Americans and Europeans to travel in Africa than it was for Africans themselves. According to The World Bank, intraregional travel accounts for the majority of tourist trips undertaken worldwide (a 77.3% market share). It is said that intra-regional travellers tend to understand the cultures and utilise local products and services more. Clearly, this opportunity is being missed on the African continent.
African travellers recall the trails, restrictions and costs of travelling within their own continent. Visa restrictions and extortionate travel costs, as well as the unfortunate reality that fellow Africans are looked upon with suspicion at embassies for claiming to travel purely for leisure or for the love of their continent, are common. It is said that at any one time it is 50-70% cheaper to fly to Europe, the UAE and sometimes North America than it is to fly within the African continent. Onerous visa requirements as well as being a significant financial burden takes up a lot of time and often works to discourage a pan African traveller from exploring the continent altogether.
“I was ready for my continent to embrace me with open arms and tell me ‘We trust each other, even if the world doesn’t trust us.’ This is a great loss to the continent as it means collectively we are not yet benefitting from the “Africa rising” rhetoric if huge proportions of tourist spending is not used within the continent.”
Ciku Kimeria – Kenyan author, development consultant and travel blogger.
Zanzibar, Tanzania (@SOwusu)
Things are, however looking up. In AFDB’s 2017 report compared to the AFDB’s 2016 report, at least a third of African countries have liberalised their visa policies and this trend is expected to continue. Most African countries have either gone up in the visa openness scores or remained at the same level as before. Take Senegal, which now grants visa-free access to citizens of 42 African countries, up from just 16 in 2015. Tunisia has lifted requirements for visas on arrival for 21 African countries, and Malawi is waiving visa requirements for citizens from certain regional blocs. Ghana recently took the step to offer visas on arrival to citizens of all 54 African Union (AU) member states.
Countries with open strategies have so far reaped the benefits. Like The Seychelles which is classified as a high-income country has no visa requirements for any Africans and this has been in place for years. Also, Rwanda which offers visa on arrival for almost all African countries saw a 22% annual growth in African tourists from 2015-2016 and in 2015, a quarter of all tourists visiting Mauritius were African. As a result of these strides, Africans now account for 4 in every 10 international visitors on the continent. But that share remains below the global average. Evidently, Africans are travelling in Africa despite the challenges – imagine when they may travel with ease?
Treichville, Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire (@findingneema)
Last year the African Union launched its continental, visa-free passport with the goal of helping to “realise the dream of visa-free travel for African citizens within their own continent by 2020“, AU leaders hope this will be key to boosting integration and free movement in Africa. For now, the passport is only available to government officials and diplomats and it could be a while before it is accessible to citizens. African passports on the continent could increase travel in the continent by 24% and revenues from tourism by 20%. Borderless travel is definitely an exciting prospect even if it will be a long time coming.
Rwandan president Paul Kagame and Chad President Idriss Deby received the first two African Union passports via BBC
A much quicker way to ease Intra Africa travel as we have seen is to streamline visa requirements and improve access to information. This could be in the form of visa-free regional blocs or multi-year visas.
A report by The World Bank suggests a model like that of the integrated tourism strategies of the Caribbean and South East Asia for Africa i.e. marketing and promoting regions as single tourism destinations. Think: “Visit West Africa with packages including visits to Ghana’s Cape Coast Castle and Ivory Coasts’ National Parks”. Taking an integrated regional approach to tourism by pooling resources, harmonising codes of conduct and easing mobility, tourism boards of the Caribbean and South East Asia have been able to improve quality and facilitate access. Building a cooperative and integrative framework for tourism in this way could benefit Africa’s ‘brand’ and boost international tourism.
The Impact of Social media
Social media in recent years has been said to have done more for African tourism than governments themselves. The emergence of platforms such as Tastemakers Africa (@tstmkrsafrica), Everyday Africa (@everydayAfrica), Hip Africa (@HipAfrica), and Visiter L’Afrique (@visiterlafrique) offering practical advice about how to travel around and between African countries as well as showing alternative images of Africa, have further boosted the appeal of African travel, especially amongst the diaspora. Social media platforms such as Instagram work to show authentic and alternative travel options – ‘beyond the safaris’. Many of these platforms such as Tastemakers Africa, go even further and facilitate trips through their websites.
“Instagrammers and influencers have brought a fresh and youthful injection by reimagining the possibilities of African travel for Africans, the African diaspora, and international tourists keen to do something other than seeing the “Big Five” on a game reserve truck or buying rugs in Morocco.”
For those of us in the diaspora, we could play our part in boosting Africa’s travel economy and image by placing African destinations on our holiday schedules. In my next post I will be speaking to people about their experiences of African travel and get an insight into the continent as a holiday destination.
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What are your experiences of African travel? Where would you like to visit? comment below.