Africa Geographic tourism hotspots and trends

Africa Geographic tourism hotspots and trends

The results of an online Africa Geographic Travel Survey released last month show that the over 1 million respondents (who hail from all six continents, though 68 percent are from North America, Europe and Australia), when asked about their Africa travel destination of choice, are squarely in favour of the south and east of the continent: South Africa received 33 percent of votes, Botswana 18 percent, Kenya 17 percent, Namibia 12 percent, Tanzania 11 percent, Zambia 4 percent, Uganda 3 percent, and Mozambique 2 percent.

The survey also uncovered that the favourite African animal is the elephant (34 percent), favourite travel companion is one’s partner (38 percent), and favourite accommodation type is fully catered establishments (41 percent). An impressive 94 percent said they come to Africa for a safari, but 82 percent said they would not visit a location that offers hunting, and 38 percent said they choose an establishment based on its sustainability. A total of 43 percent said they post on social media while travelling.

Southern Africa

South Africa is the well-established travel favourite of the continent, offering safaris, cities and culture, beaches and mountains, food and wine, and a business hub, and its share of incoming tourists will continue to be high. Tourism is a key player in the country’s economy, and one in 12 jobs are supported by the industry. In 2012 the Government announced its plans to increase tourism’s GDP contribution from R189.4 billion in 2009 to R499 billion by 2020.

Botswana is the current darling of African tourism, fresh-faced, hip and happening. Chobe National Park has one of the richest game concentrations on the continent, Duba, in the Okavango Delta, boasts some of the largest lions on the continent (which moreover hunt during the day and so afford visitors spectacular action scenes), the Makgadikgadi Salt Pan, one of the world’s largest, is another big attraction, offering other-worldly silence and an oasis of wildlife after rains, and the Central Kalahari Game Reserve along with other reserves are also big draws. Botswana’s ranking as Africa’s safest and most stable country adds to its tourism appeal.

Namibia is highly popular among both African and international travellers. Mundulea Reserve was named by The Telegraph as one of Africa’s top 10 safaris, in large part because of its exceptional “vision of conservation”, the Namib Desert offers 4×4 and other sporting adventures, Etosha Park has proved its timeless appeal as a tourist destination, and a new self-drive route – the Arid Eden Route – has been established in the north of the country to promote previously underexplored cultural and natural attractions. Tourism is Namibia’s fastest growing industry to date in terms of GDP contribution, with 39 percent of visitors coming for a holiday, and 27 percent coming on business, according to the Namibia Tourist Exit Survey 2012 – 2013 Survey Report.

Zambia and Zimbabwe would be famous even if they had nothing to offer other than the awesome Victoria Falls. But the former is also making a success of its wildlife, from the South Luangwa National Park to the Kafue National Park and the Zambezi River and Valley. (For more detailed insight into Zambia’s tourism prospects, click here.) Zimbabwe offers Lake Kariba, Chizarira National Park and Hwange National Park, among others. The country’s political toils boosted Zambia’s share of Victoria Falls tourism for many years, but it is now starting to reclaim its share of tourists.

East Africa

The delights of Tanzania are not new to the international tourism scene, but being what they are they continue as perennial favourites, and Tanzania is often a visitor’s first-ever African destination. Top draw cards include Mount Kilimanjaro, Zanzibar, the Serengeti National Park, the Ngorongoro Crater, and Ruaha National Park. Chumbe Island Coral Park (CHICOP) off Zanzibar has received UN recognition for its sustainable management and protection of the coral reef.

Kenya is another time-honoured favourite, famous for its abundance of wildlife and great parks, such as Nairobi National Park, Shimba Hills and the Masai Mara. Mombasa is a popular historic and cultural destination. Tourism is one of the country’s top three service sector industries.

Uganda is popular for its wildlife and landscape, particularly Murchinson Falls National Park, Sipi Falls, Queen Elizabeth National Park (its most-visited tourist destination), the Rwenzori Mountains, and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, which is home to roughly half of the world’s Mountain Gorillas. Tourism is a major force in the national economy, and is set to become more so, with Uganda having been named by National Geographic as one of the top 20 global tourism destinations of 2013.

A relative newcomer to the international tourism scene but one not to be ignored is Rwanda. Two decades after the genocide it is a changed country, boasting sound reform policies, clean streets and a 98-percent Wi-Fi penetration. It is also beginning to maximise on its natural attractions, which include mountain gorillas, beautiful Lake Kivu, the Congo Nile, and Nyungwe forest, which is protected by the Nyungwe National Park, named a top travel destination by National Geographic. The country largely holds allure for more adventurous and sporty travellers. At present tourism is one of the country’s top sources of foreign exchange, along with coffee, tea and minerals.

Other hotspots

North, West and Central Africa are less tourism regions as they are areas with particular tourist hotspots. In North Africa, a region still struggling to re-establish political stability and regain its reputation after the Spring Uprisings of 2011, Morocco is an isolated pocket of peace and continuity. Marrakech and the Atlas Mountains are two prominent draw cards, representative of the country’s two primary assets: culture and history, and landscape.

The Gambia is popular with Europeans wanting to winter on its sunny beaches, while Senegal has Niokolo Koba National Park, A World Heritage Site based on its biodiversity. Ethiopia is renowned for its history, culture, landscape and wildlife; Lalibela in the north has famous monolithic rock-cut churches and Aksum is a centre of pilgrimage. The Seychelles and Mauritius continue to draw their large numbers of island holidaymakers. Egypt, in spite of its troubles, has so much iconic history to offer that its tourism industry is sure to weather the storm, even if numbers are somewhat down at present from pre-2011 figures.

Heady tourism potential remains for countries such as Libya, which is trying to regain its tourism appeal and is rich in tourist attractions such as Roman ruins and camel outings, and Mozambique, which has beautiful sandy beaches but relatively underdeveloped infrastructure.

David Okwara

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