June 17, 2009

African tourism to grow 2-3 % in 2009 — UN tourism body

Tourism to Africa will grow by   a slower 2-3 per cent in 2009    from around 47 million arrivals last year because the global economic slowdown is making travellers cut costs, a U.N. tourism body said on Tuesday. Tourism has become a key source of foreign exchange for many African nations, and in countries like Mauritius and Seychelles it makes up over 30 per cent of gross domestic product.

Although tourist numbers have grown over the last few years, Africa still attracts less than 5 per cent of global arrivals.

“Consumers are changing their habits, travelling closer. There is less expenditure and their purchasing power is also affected,” said Ousmane Ndiaye, Africa’s head for the U.N. World Tourism Organisation. He said tourism to the continent suffers from high air transport costs, a bad image in the media, poor infrastructure, and quality and training issues. “Africa is at a bit of a disadvantage when compared with Asia and the Americas,” he said.

“But what we have witnessed is that tourism has proven to be very resilient,” he told Reuters at an Afro-Asia tourism summit in the Ugandan capital, predicting arrivals would grow by 2-3 per cent this year. “That’s compared with 8 per cent in 2007 and 5 per cent in 2008.”

African economies have been struggling since last year with high oil and food costs and now also face falls in export demand and in remittances from expatriate workers.

The continent should develop “niche” tourism like destination weddings to the Indian Ocean, health and eco-tourism to boost receipts and volumes, Ndiaye said. He said tourism receipts earned the continent $27 billion in 2006 from a world total of around $825 billion.

The U.N. body estimates that 17 million tourists travelled to north Africa and another 30 million to sub-Sahara in 2008 – almost half were intra-regional. The body gets statistics from tourism operators, associations, governments and its database.