We are seeing vague signs of spring in Europe, lighter evenings at last, and the first green shoots appearing in our gardens. The later part of 2014 was a shocker for African tourism as the media, desperate as always to hook their readers, spread a mythical fear of Ebola, brushing a shadow across the ‘dark continent’ as they would like to portray it. But it’s springtime in Europe so let’s move on now and stick with the green shoots theme, even though autumn maybe coming your way in the Southern Hemisphere!
Let’s forget tourism for a second and look at the bigger picture across our patch which is sub-Saharan Africa. The demand and growth across the construction, power, telecoms, banking and retail sectors are robust and Africa’s economy is on the up. Sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP grew by 4.7% in 2013 with a projection of 6.6% by 2017. China has been responsible for much of the heavy investment in infrastructure across Africa over the last ten years, for example the huge investment in roads has been noticeable across much of SSA. But as China runs out of domestically sourced materials, Africa is filling the gap, by gradually increasing its manufacturing and exporting in ever-growing quantities to China. Economic growth is driven by knowing ‘how to make and export things’ and manufacturing is becoming the buzz word for Africa, followed hotly by business services of all types from insurance to communications and IT.
This will mean that Africa will become far more urban with expansion of big cities. More discretionary income will become available for the growing middle class to spend as they wish. So by 2050 an affluent African middle class will make up 40% of the population of the continent and in all probability they will become the most important tourists of the future, as they criss-cross borders within Africa.
As we heard from my colleague Ross Kennedy some countries in Southern Africa have already started sowing the seeds to strengthen cross-border tourism with the new common tourist Univisa. We are proud that Atta was involved in those pilot surveys acting on behalf of the World Bank. Up in East Africa the prospect of a single currency grows stronger. The five EA Community member states, spearheaded by Kenya’s central bank, are preparing to launch a cross-border payments system which, like the Univisa, will remove obstacles to cross-border business transactions and boost regional trade. An excellent example of growing African expertise is the remarkable story of the Kenyan M-Pesa, which developed a system of transferring money by mobile phone that is now being introduced using the Kenyan model into Europe.
As Africa prepares to ease border restrictions in many ways, a gradual industrialisation is changing its investment reputation, which is why the world’s investment managers are switching heavily into African funds right now. Where does this leave the tourism industry? Will the urban sprawl squeeze our valuable game areas and will financial greed put pressure on Africa’s flora and fauna, which is at the heart of our world in African tourism today?
Yes is almost certainly the response. We must immediately lay down strict controls that ring-fence our wildlife for future generations. Education is the key and private sector and government must work hand in hand to teach Africa’s youth about the importance of tourism. Today’s youth will then become the ambassadors of a sustainable tourism structure in, say, 2030.
It is true that tourism will have to adapt to fit into Africa’s changing face but in doing so we must preserve our culture and heritage for our children and our children’s children. Tourism must become as important a subject as maths or physics in schools across Africa. If tourism is integrated into the education syllabus we can ensure that future generations will understand that they must work to preserve Africa’s culture and heritage. I hope and pray that the people of the ‘New’ Africa in, say, 2030 will have retained a model that allows them to thrive together in harmony with Africa’s unique wildlife.