For many people, the archetype of African tourism has been the European model of the “safari.” Tourists come from distant lands, perhaps escaping the boreal winter, and bring hard currency and fuzzy preconceptions. They are seeking a once-in-lifetime experience, provided by a tourist industry that now employs about 7% of the Continent’s workforce.
A quietly growing body of research, however, suggests that this view is no longer quite true. In sub-Saharan Africa, as much as two-thirds of the tourism is internal, and may account for almost twice the revenues of extra-continental traffic. African tourists in Africa are not yet well-studied. Travellers from the Continent have different needs: they are much more likely to be on business trips or visiting family, they are less seasonally variable, and they are less interested in finding a hotel that will make them feel like they’re back in London. But they are an increasingly large economic growth sector.
Like non-Africans, African tourists in Africa face a daunting array of problems. Internal transportation is notoriously limited and unreliable, visas can be hard to obtain, and there are of course regions of instability. The World Economic Forum details many of these issues in their annual ranking of Travel of Tourism competitiveness. Yet not all these issues affect internal tourism and external tourism to the same degree. For instance, the WEF rankings emphasize things like a country’s “brand strategy” for attracting tourists, or the number of ATMs, or the quality of national parks and entertainment centers. Tourist industry leaders have largely followed suit. But for Africans in a cash economy who are traveling to visit their relatives, those points are of less importance.
Clearly, the future of African tourism involves both external and internal travelers. But with a long-standing focus on the external, the rise of an internal tourism economy is taking some by surprise.