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About the Author

Johan Knols
Blogger, safari specialist, professional wildlife guide (Woerden, Netherlands)

Johan Knols is the owner of the planyoursafari blog. He studied tourism in the Netherlands and has been working in the African tourism industry for nearly 15 years. Starting as lodge manager in the Serengeti in Tanzania, he eventually owned his own mobile safari company in Botswana. Johan received his professional wildlife- guides licence in 1998 and was awarded the title of Honorary Wildlife Officer with the Botswana Wildlife and National Parks authority in 2005. During his time in Africa he has managed upmarket safari lodges and has done overland trips in the luxury and semi-luxury sector. At the moment he is a full-time blogger giving tips and advices on everything related to African safaris.


African Tourism Leakages: Mopping With An Open Tap

Published 09th July 2010 - 8 comments - 5207 views -

(click on image for article)The UNWTO (United Nations World Tourism Organization) has targeted tourism as one of the main income earners for developing countries. Every country in the world has something to offer and if you pack it right, eventually tourism will start to pick up and money from abroad will start flowing into government coffers. Or not..

It seems that big institutions like the UNWTO love to juggle with figures. Most of the time the tempting carrot of turn-over figures will get published, which tells little, if anything at all, about tourism moneys remaining in a country. It could therefore well be that developing countries are not doing as well out of tourism as we are made to believe.

International companies

It is not that difficult. If a government of a developing country can attract an international player in tourism, chances are there that loads of investment money will start to come in. Jobs get created and the spin-off effect towards other sectors in the economy can be highly beneficial. But now we get to the crux. What if, after the initial investment, you as a tourist have to transfer your money to the head office of a company in, let’s say South Africa, but your holiday will be spend in an accommodation of that same company in Botswana?

Right, that money will not appear in the books of the Botswana tax man, but only in those of the tax man in South Africa. Which means that for a service delivered in Botswana, no tax gets paid. If a developing countries allows a stack of foreign investors into its soils, it runs the risk of losing millions in the long run.

Imported products

But it is not only tax schemes like the above that contribute to tourism leakages.
International tourists are picky and very demanding, which means that if they can’t get what they have at home, they will soon turn their backs on a developing country and go somewhere else. The result of this behavior is the need to import products from far which are locally not available or not ‘up to standard’ ( I kid you not, I know of a lodge in the Serengeti /Tanzania that imports its toilet paper from South Africa, although it is locally available and manufactured! Another example was a person of a company traveling from Tanzania to the UK to purchase items that were locally unavailable, like Marmite).

Imported labour

Many people working in higher positions in the tourism industry of developing countries are foreigners. This means that their salaries, which are more often than not paid in forex, eventually will leave the country or not even enter the country. I remember working in Tanzania and receiving my money from the USA directly into my Dutch bank-account. Since my money was made abroad, I did not have to pay taxes over it in Holland, nor did I in Tanzania because it never entered the country. Again loss of revenue for the poor.

Good intentions

Despite the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism, stopping money from leaking is virtually impossible in countries that suffer from droughts, unskilled labour , strongly fluctuating currencies and poor administrative systems. It basically boils down to (foreign) companies themselves if they want to operate in a ‘developing manner’ or that they are just in the game to fill their own pockets. Having a considerable time in tourism behind me myself, I am afraid the latter will be the case. But then again, better some development than no development at all.

Category: Tourism | Tags:


  • Iris Cecilia Gonzales on 09th July 2010:

    hi Johan,

    Thanks for this. Your post reminds me of a recent development here in the Philippines. Did you know that we are experiencing an influx of Korean tourists and they now are starting to own so many businesses even if this is not allowed by our government? What is happening is that the Koreans look for Filipino partners so they can have a title or ownership of the land. And if Filipinos have to go to Korea, we would need a visa. I know it’s helping the economy in terms of businesses but in terms of social and so-called cultural costs, I’m not so sure.

  • Bart Knols on 10th July 2010:

    @Iris - interesting development ref Philippines. This would be a great topic for aTH!NK3 post, and with your great writing skills would make a very nice story…

  • Iris Cecilia Gonzales on 11th July 2010:

    Thanks for the encouragement Bart. Will try to gather materials. I’ve been wanting to write about it for a long time now!

  • Johan Knols on 13th July 2010:

    Tanzania is paying more attention on leakages:

  • Clare Herbert on 16th July 2010:

    Grea post. You clearly know your stuff in this field.

  • Johan Knols on 17th July 2010:


    I am not sure whether it is wise to criticize the trade I worked in (with pleasure) for most of my life.

  • Clare Herbert on 18th July 2010:

    @ Johan: I see what you mean smile But you have a really unique perspective on this area and can use that knowledge to improve the way we do things or at least, the discourse around how we do it. Specialist knowledge or experience is always an advantage in good writing. While I love my job too, I do spend a lot of time thinking that it could be better. Will I ever be satisfied? I doubt it.

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