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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.


Africa’s Share In Global Tourism

Published 26th March 2010 - 12 comments - 8105 views -

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.

Africa’s potential

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

Source: BBC newsMention ‘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:




  • Hussam Hussein on 26th March 2010:

    Hey Johan!!!

    Thank you very much for your very interesting article! smile
    While reading it, I was wondering on three points:

    1) More tourism does it always mean more income for the country, or maybe more income only or mainly to the international (western) touristic organizations?

    2) Maybe is better to have a different kind of tourism, that means only tourists that go there to get to know the culture, that prefer eco-holidays and that care about the environment, instead of having huge holiday villages with a big environmental impact.

    3) Usually more tourism means also more natural resources exploitation, for instance more water consumption that in an arid area could have a big impact on the local populations.

    Therefore, would it be better to support an eco-friendly tourism to Africa, that really deserves to be visited, as you know, because as you said, it’s a wonderful continent that offers a rich diversity of tourist attractions smile

  • Johan Knols on 26th March 2010:

    Hi Hussam,

    Of course your questions are very valid and make sense. And believe me, in future posts you will get more on the issues that you raise.

    Thanks for commenting.

  • Robert Stefanicki on 26th March 2010:

    Dear Hussam,
    let me try to answer your questions:

    ad1. The answer is “both”. Of course western tourist agencies earn a lot, but their local sub-contractors get their share too. Not to mention the gains for individual restaurant owners, souvenir sellers etc.

    ad 2. Yes, eco-tourism is praiseworthy. But it’s not where the big money comes from. It will always remain mariginal. If we are talking about toursim in Africa as a substantial income-generating factor, we have to talk about big groups of elderly Germans or Americans staying in lush hotels. Like it or not.

    ad 3. I don’t think tourism in general is dangerous for natural resources exploitation (except ultra-vulnerable environment, like coral reefs or high mountains). On the contrary - tourism is often a conducive factor to preservation of natural environment. Just one example: successful fight against poachers in Africa.

    Johan’s observation that Africa desperately need PR seems correct. And it is not just in tourism.

  • Hussam Hussein on 27th March 2010:

    Robert, please have a look to my last post:
    that’s concern mainly the point n.3… And I’m sure that also Johan, that also have a very long experience in Africa and knows this issue very well, means that it is important to PR for Africa, but not in the sense of luxury hotels and similar.. it’s an other face of living Africa and an other way of discovering this country that we should advertize.
    Anyway, I’m sure we’ll have the opportunity to talk again about this topic in the next months smile

  • Daniel on 28th March 2010:

    Yesterday in the news there was a discussion about why western customers are very fond of buying ethically branded products, but very few consumers care about ethical travelling. Does anyone here have any ideas about why this is so? Is ethical travelling discussed in your countries?


  • Johan Knols on 28th March 2010:

    Hello all,

    I was merely stressing the fact that Africa should first get its image in order to start attracting more tourists. Once trust is being build with the international traveling community will Africa have the luxury of asking itself in what form it is going to offer its potential. At the moment the word ‘eco’ is already on many peoples lips.

  • Robert Stefanicki on 28th March 2010:

    @ Daniel: I have a suspicion that the reason why fewer people care about ethical traveling than about ethical buying is that there are much more buyers than travelers smile

    @ Hussam: I have read your piece on Morocco, quite interesting. Well, my point (3) was a little bit provocative, true. But I still think the answer is not to cut tourism but to force developers to provide independent water sources for their constructions.

  • Johan Knols on 30th March 2010:

    Today (30/03/10) I found some positive news on the increase in East African Tourism:

  • Pieter Kat on 30th March 2010:

    In reply to your article, I would suggest the following:

    Tourism, despite being a growth industry, is dependent on clients who are very largely uninformed of the choice of destinations available. As a result, Tourism Boards of a number of countries have placed prominent advertisements on television programs. We have all, for example, seen promotions urging us to visit Greece, Montenegro, Egypt, Morocco, etc.

    However, other countries have lagged behind in such campaigns, relying instead on private enterprise to produce tourist numbers. I am referring here to African countries like Botswana, Mozambique, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, etc. Angola and South Africa do indeed advertise themselves, as does Nigeria, but these are largely aimed at investors or potential visitors to the football World Cup.

    This is depite the acknowledged importance of tourism income to the GDP of such nations.

    Overall, there is the mistaken assumption that the world will provide many millions of tourists per year, and by default, some will trickle down to the venues provided by any particular nation. This is far from the reality. There are only limited numbers of people with sufficient disposable income in the world at any time to rely on for tourism numbers. Unless these people are attracted and convinced to spend their vacations at a particular location, they will not come. Surely the private sector has a role to play, but so do the nations themselves, as evident from the positive actions taken by the countries listed above.

    Complacency in terms of promoting destinations will not work. Active involvement by all parties is needed - after all, tourism is a competitive business.

    Tourism boards have been established by most nations, and they must now become procative!

  • Johan Knols on 31st March 2010:

    It looks that Zambia wants to change its negative image:

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