This is the Africa Business Fellowship’s (ABF) second of three blog posts from the Corporate Council on Africa’s 10th Biennial U.S.-Africa Business Summit in Addis Ababa.

My favorite panel of the day was by far the “Growing Your National Tourism Economy.” Speakers included Ethiopian Tourism Organization CEO Solomon Tadesse, Zimbabwean Minister of Tourism Walter Mzembi, former U.S. Department of the Interior advisor Gail Adams and South African Airways VP for Sales North America Stroebel Bekker.

Did you know?

·       One tourist creates 9 jobs according to the UN World Tourism Organization.

·       Sub-Saharan African tourism represents just 1% of the global tourism industry.

·       Religious tourism moves 300 million of the world’s annual 1.2 billion travellers.

·       Nigerian prophet TB Joshua receives more visitors than Buckingham Palace.

·       Most of South African Airways customers traveling from the U.S. to Africa are leisure travelers, not on business. This is expected to change in the coming years.

Panelists engaged in an honest discussion about American perceptions, Western media, and their combined impact on Africa travel interest. The media generally does the continent no favors – firstly, Africa is often depicted in headlines as a country (check #AfricaSees for my previous work on that) and hunger/war/disease/destruction narratives usually supersede any positive news out of Africa. One consequence of this lack of knowledge: 12 international conferences in Zimbabwe were cancelled due to Ebola – which was nowhere near Southern Africa. 12.

The panel agreed that education of U.S. travellers was necessary but some members of the audience disagreed whose responsibility it was. Gail Adams pointed out that many Americans don’t even know the U.S. capital, how would they know about Africa? In this case, is it the job of Africans to educate Americans about the continent? I say no, but a job for tourism ministries and boards across the continent? Definitely, if interested in increasing arrival numbers.

One policy prescription I appreciated was from Minister Mzembi. He suggested that government support for tourism should mirror the dedicated (albeit partially lip-serviced) pan-African support for agriculture. “We pledge 10% of the national budget to agriculture with the Maputo Declaration. If we gave 1%, the continent’s current 53 million arrivals can double by 2018.” A good starting point but as today's panel agreed, it is going to take stakeholders across sectors and borders to boost sub-Saharan Africa's global share of tourism. 

Those reading in the U.S., have you visited the continent? Why or why not? Feel free to answer in the comments. 


Adedana Ashebir is the African Leadership Network Program Director of the Africa Business Fellowship. She is based in Nairobi. Follow the US.-Africa Business Summit using #AfricaBizSummit.