Tourist arrivals double in ten years
In 2003 tourism was not a major economic priority for most African nations, because they were frequently paying more attention to regional conflicts and political instability.
And it showed in the international visitor numbers, which according to the UN World Tourism Organisation, was 30 million that year.
Just 10 years later the number of international arrivals in Africa has nearly doubled to a record 56 million. Add to that unprecedented numbers of cross-continental and domestic travel in Africa, and the industry as a driver of GDP becomes very attractive indeed.
So the question is what has caused this remarkable turnaround, and perhaps more importantly, is the current growth trajectory sustainable?
The answer to the first question lies largely in the fact that Africa has remained reasonably recession-proof for the past six years and several African nations have shown some of the most impressive GDP growth in the world since the start of the global economic crisis in 2008.
There is also greater political stability in sub-Saharan Africa now, which perhaps more importantly is coupled with a desire to create sustained economic growth.
We are increasingly seeing governments of mineral and energy-rich nations legislating for the development of local support and processing industries that create long-term employment opportunities, rather than simply exporting raw materials.
This has, for the first time ever, created a new middle class in many African nations that is growing every year. This sector of consumers did not previously exist; households with disposable income that are active economic contributors. So what does this mean for travel spend as a GDP driver and the development of the hospitality industry in Africa?
It is quite simple; where there is economic and business expansion, there will be hotels. Hospitality is largely built on the back of business travel and hotels go up where industry develops.
Many African governments are realising the earning potential of the travel industry and are actively encouraging tourism infrastructure development.
In Namibia, tourism is the fastest growing industry, and according to Environment and Tourism Minister Uahekua Herunga, it is a strategic sector in the National Development Plan 4.
He says the tourism industry is “recognised and supported by the government for its … ability to generate foreign exchange earnings, employment, rural development, poverty reduction and empowerment of the local communities”.
The fact is that the phenomenon of Africa Rising is real, and it will continue. That means more and more international hospitality groups will be spending in Africa, just as we have. Last month Marriott International invested around US$200 million in the future of African hospitality by buying the Protea Hospitality Group, which has numerous hotels in Namibia, and with that became the largest hotel group on the continent. In the next 4 years we are building a minimum of 10 000 additional hotel rooms in the Middle East and Africa that will be among approximately 120 000 new hotel rooms planned for the region.
Looking back, one can only marvel at the remarkably long way that Africa has travelled in a very short space of time, but even better is the realisation of potential yet to come.