TOURISTS to South Africa last year grew 3.8% as key rivals Kenya and Egypt reeled from blows to their markets landed by insecurity, with arrivals for this year expected to largely follow the same dismal pattern.
The UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) says that visitor numbers to Africa in the first half of this year are up 3%, but warned this was at some risk due to misconceptions over Ebola.
Newly released South African data showed the country received 9,536,568 tourists last year, a 3.8% jump on 2012 when 9,183,368 sightseers came in, and will be looking to at least retain current figures for this year in the wake of fears over Ebola in West Africa, which should help prop its sluggish economy.
The country is now the second most popular tourist destination in Africa after Morocco, according to the UNWTO.
Leader Morocco also had a bumper year, welcoming 10 million visitors last year from 9.3 million in 2012, a 7.2% gain, and despite concerns over terrorism in northern Africa, remains in course to better this in 2014.
Egypt takes a big hit
But for Egypt, tourist arrivals fell 17.9% to 9.5 million in 2013, with receipts of $5.9 billion, according to its Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics. During its hey day, the country banked $12.5 billion a year.
Revenues for the first half of this year were $3 billion, down 25% on the comparable period of last year, but in an interview with wire agency Reuters this week, Tourism minister Hishaam Zaazou said he was hopeful of a revival by the first quarter of next year, following intense marketing campaigns in key markets.
The country, despite its challenges, however remains the third most popular tourist destination. In 2012 it received 11.5 million tourists, a steep fall from 2010 when it admitted nearly 15 million tourists, as the effects of the political unrest that followed the toppling of Hosni Mubarak in 2011 continued to linger.
Tunisia, the cradle of the Arab Spring, saw a 5.3% jump in arrivals, with 6.2 million passing through its ports of entry and continuing its recovery from the upheaval of 2011. The industry accounts for close to 8% of Tunisian GDP.
In an illustration of how sensitive the industry is to insecurity, Kenya tourist numbers slumped 11% last year, the second annual fall in a row, as concerns over terrorist attacks saw a number of major tourist source markets issue travel advisories.
Tourist arrivals fell to 1.09 million, from 1.23 million in 2012 while earnings fell two per cent to $1.06 billion, according to government data.
Poaching is also a concern in east Africa’s biggest economy, while operators have also blamed the high cost of visiting compared to neighbours due to increased taxes.
The country has already reported a 13.6% fall in tourist arrivals for the first half of 2014, as official data showed 428,585 for the six months to June, compared to 495,978 for the similar period of 2013.
Investors say based on this, they fear they “may have lost the whole year”.
“The numbers have spoken; we performed very badly due to the insecurity experienced, especially at the Kenyan Coast,” Sam Ikwaye, the executive director of the Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers, told news agency AFP last week.
Tourism accounts for 11% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
But South Africa has had few such concerns, as its source markets remained strong. Tourists from Africa constituted nearly three quarters (71.9%) of sightseers to the country.
Of these the overwhelming majority, 69.4%, were from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) regional bloc, of which it is a member. The top SADC source countries were Zimbabwe (29.2%), Lesotho, Mozambique, Swaziland and Botswana.
“Other” Africa constituted 2.5% of tourist arrivals, with Nigeria in the lead with 84,552 visitors, or 35.6%. Kenya (15%), Ghana (11.5%), Uganda and Ethiopia rounded out the leading five source markets from the continent.
The majority of South African tour operators say travellers are still visiting and reservations are robust, even as the country’s authorities locked out nationals from countries hardest hit by Ebola.
Overseas tourists to South Africa provided 27.9% of the total, with main source markets being the United Kingdom, United States, Germany, China and France.
The outlook for Morocco remains strong, despite being an Islamic country and the unavoidable association that radical militant activity North Africa could affect it. However the country remains secure, with a large expatriate population.
The country also offers diverse locations, with the main challenges being one many African countries would love to have: major delays at ports of entry due to its popularity, especially with western tourists.
The World Economic Forum ranked Morocco as the third most tourist-friendly country in a survey of 140 nations, only beaten out by Iceland and New Zealand. The rankings in part measured the ability of a country to interact with the tastes and cultural diversity of tourists, “a big challenge in the era of globalisation”.
Tourists to Africa last year topped 55 million, but the continent remains on the periphery of what is a $3 billion a day global business, with only a 5.2% share of industry receipts.
An authoritative study showed tourism accounts for 2.7% of sub-Saharan African GDP, with direct tourist receipts of $33.5 billion in 2011. The continent will be hoping this year is a step towards correcting this in an industry that is jobs-rich but which has struggled to meet it potential.