Tourism in Sub-Saharan Africa to Continue to Enjoy Robust Growth

The tourism industry in sub-Saharan Africa experienced strong growth in 2012 despite the difficult global context, registering a 4.7% increase in arrivals, higher than the global average of 4.3% and second only to Asia Pacific with 5.1%. This has been fuelled by strong economic growth and rising disposable incomes, with business and leisure visits to domestic and regional destinations growing in number, alongside an increase in the number of arrivals from BRIC countries.

By 2017, the number of tourists travelling to sub-Saharan Africa is set to reach 42.6 million, with there being further potential for this figure to continue rising. However, significant investment in infrastructure and tourism training is required for inbound visitor numbers to show dramatic growth.

South Africa the leisure and business leader

South Africa continues to dominate the region. Accounting for over 25% of total arrivals, it is not only the region’s top destination for many visitors but is also becoming one of the world’s fastest growing MICE destinations. The success of the World Cup has provided South Africans with a great opportunity to showcase their safe investment climate for visitors to the country and display its MICE infrastructure, particularly in Johannesburg and Cape Town which have become popular choices for business travellers thanks to their great range of facilities for hosting events, while adventure and safari incentive trips are also becoming increasingly popular with business tourists.

Zimbabwe is the second leading country for international arrivals within sub-Saharan Africa, with over 2.5 million arrivals in 2012 and predictions for this to rise above three million by 2017, helped by the stabilising economic and political environment as the country turns into a safe and competitive destination in the region.

Emerging top destinations

Of the top 10 tourism destinations, Mozambique and Uganda experienced the fastest growth in arrivals over the review period. The recent discovery of oil and gas deposits in these countries will assist the development of business tourism as well as boost domestic tourism as disposable incomes rise.

Sub Saharan Africa International Arrivals by Key Destination 2012-2017

Sub-Saharan Africa International Arrivals by Key Destination 2012-2017

Source: Euromonitor International

BRICs taking the lead

The UK is the dominant source market for international visitors to Africa, followed by the US, the Netherlands and France. These countries have colonial connections and strong business, leisure and family links. Nonetheless, although these will remain important as they continue to account for the largest number of non-regional arrivals, sub-Saharan Africa is slowly changing its tourism focus away from the traditional source markets of Europe. Regional arrivals and visitors from the BRIC countries are registering much higher levels of growth and are now being actively targeted by tourism professionals.

In 2012, China and India were the fastest growing international source markets in terms of arrivals, with increases of 45% and 36%, respectively, on the previous year.

Travel from Middle Eastern countries is also rising. In addition, Eastern Europe is tipped to be a new source of arrivals, with tourists from Russia arriving via the growing number of flight connections in the Middle East.

China becomes a key tourism source market

As a result of the close cooperation and business links with China, tourist offices in many African countries have developed marketing strategies tailored specifically to the Chinese market and some countries such as Mauritius have even removed visa requirements for Chinese travellers, with other countries shortening visa processing times to less than a week.

At present, 27 African countries have become outbound destinations for Chinese tour groups, and tourist numbers from both sides are growing rapidly as a result. Improving flight connections have opened up the region to the increasingly travel-focused Chinese middle-class. Nairobi and Addis Ababa have recently been connected to Hong Kong, Beijing and Guangzhou through daily flights.