Wielding machetes simply scare visitors
Hope for Africa
There is reason for joy. According to the UNWTO (United Nations World Tourism Organization) Africa was the only continent in 2009 to put a 5% growth in tourism to its name, whereas other continents where in the minus. Europe and the Middle East had to face a drop of 6%, the Americas 5% and Asia and the Pacific had to swallow 2%. Since tourism is one of the pillars on which poverty alleviation is build, one would think there is plenty reason to cheerfully pop the locally brewed African beer.
Although I am an optimist by nature, I believe that the reality is not that rosy, as Africa in 2009 only received 5% of the total amount of tourists worldwide.
Considering the fact that Africa is the second largest continent (after Asia) and that one in 7 people on the planet are living in Africa, that 5% is very low. Africa received in 2009 around 45 million tourists, which means 0,045 tourists for every African. If one compares this with the 825 million inhabitants of Europe, that received 441 million tourists (2005), which means 0,534 tourists per inhabitant, then we see that we should maybe indeed leave the beer in the brewing pot.
It is not that Africa lacks tourism potential. On the contrary. Between the pyramids of Egypt and the rough seas near Cape Point in South Africa, from the spice island of Zanzibar to the rain forests of Gabon, a rich diversity of tourist attractions awaits even the most spoiled tourist. It is the continent with the biggest amount of free roaming wildlife, the landscapes are as different as the White House is to a Dutch windmill and the cultural varieties are colorful. Yet Africa is not able to attract the hordes that it needs to make a dent in its poverty.
The scare factor
Mention ‘Africa’ to Tom, Dick and Harry and ask them to characterize it in one word. How likely will it be to hear descriptions like ‘starvation’, ‘famine’, ‘Aids’, ‘war’, ‘political unrest’, ‘poverty’, ‘corruption’ and ‘disease’. What would you say if you had to answer that question? Would you pay money to book a trip to a continent like that?
I don’t care if it is the media that created that negative image. Because true or not, that image is there and it has been there for years. The close up image of a fly sucking liquid from an Ethiopian child’s eye while it rubs it swollen undernourished belly is not something that is easily associated with a once in a year, hard earned holiday. The same Tom, Dick and Harry couldn’t care less if that fly feeds 3000 kilometers away from a spot where they could be safely lying on a white, palm fringed beach or watch a stalking lion in all peace. For them any country in Africa IS Africa.
So let’s go to a country that is more like our own western societies: South Africa. The nation of the Rainbow has the pleasure of organizing the World Cup Soccer in June this year. Tough luck, cause even now we are being dished up stories about robberies, murder and rape.
But it is not only the negative view being portrait by the media that is the reason for low tourism numbers. A recent survey showed that 60% of European citizens do not even know about the existence of Zambia. Now I have to admit that you must have been living in a carton box to not know that. But apparently it is a fact and a most likely a worry for the Zambian Tourism Board. At least it would be my worry! Of course I realize that it is easy to say from the comfort of my chair that African countries have to jack up their PR-campaigns, but with the increase in technology in Africa and the virtual spiders enlarging their world wide web, they should be able to make a bigger impact on the tourism front.
It is time for Africa to wake up and look inside itself. The potential is there, the overwhelming majority of the people are nice and the landscapes and wildlife breathtaking. Now it has to work on its image. That negative image has to be transformed in a positive one, although it will take a considerable effort and a lot of changes to forget that fly…
An insight in the problems of Kenyan tourism after the dec. 2007 election violence: