Seeing is Believing

September 30, 2015

International tourism is booming, with above average growth for five consecutive years. More than 1.1 billion tourists travelled in 2014, a world record that defied a sluggish global economy and the scare of an Ebola outbreak in a few West African countries. One of the bright spots in this trend has been sub-Saharan Africa, whose growth has outpaced nearly every part of the world. Since 2000, tourist arrivals to sub-Saharan Africa have swelled to 36 million people, a 40 percent increase, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization. This narrative has been good for Africa, as tourism revenue is an important driver of job creation, new infrastructure and socio-economic progress – all indicators that need a helpful upward nudge. And even better for sub-Saharan Africa: the growth will continue unabated until 2030, with tourism arrivals expected to double.

With so much room for improvement, African countries should be doing a lot to promote tourism.

As exciting as the numbers have been, they should be a lot better. Sub-Saharan Africa’s tourism receipts account for just 2 percent of the $1.2 billion global tourism industry. With so much room for improvement, African countries should be doing a lot to promote tourism. But in reality, sub-Saharan Africa is one of the world’s least accessible regions to foreign visitors. It invests too little in attracting tourism and wards off interested travellers with restrictive visa policies. Only 9 out of 54 African countries allow visa-free travel to American or European Union citizens, with another 14 permitting evisa or visa on arrival. That leaves large swathes of the continent under-explored and even less understood by the outside world. Redrawing global perceptions about Africa is a battle that cannot be won by relaxing travel policies alone. But many countries deserve the world to discover their hidden treasures and witness how much progress they have made. Sometimes seeing is believing.