Move over Big Five, tech start-ups driving tourism to Africa, new trends report says

Technology-related travel growing faster than the traditional wildlife attractions, new research shows.

THE year 2015 has been shaping up to be a disaster of sorts for the African economy, battered by China’s slowing growth and general market instability, but new research analysed by Mail & Guardian Africa research shows travel is set to finish the year on a surprising high.

International lenders have pared back positive economic forecasts for the continent this year, the most recent of which was the International Monetary Fund which now projects sub-Saharan African growth to be just 3.75% this year, even slower than in 2009 when the global financial crisis was in full flow.

Tourism was expected to be one of the casualties of the uncertainty, as travellers cut back on optional trips, but in its Global Trends Report 2015, the World Travel Market, one of the industry’s biggest international events, paints an optimistic picture (pdf) for the industry, saying that while its projection for the continent’s growth is 4.5%, down from 5% last year, arrivals are expected to nearly double.

Receipts are also expected to grow by half to 5.4%, from 3.6% last year, according to the research done by Euromonitor International. Most of the continent’s struggling airlines, which fell into negative territory in value growth in 2014, will rebound to grow 2.9%.

But the biggest gains will come to the hotel industry, with a fourfold growth from 1.4% to 6.0%. Even intermediaries, such as online booking agencies, will grow nearly six times to 5.9%, from the negative growth booked in 2014.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is that this brisk growth is not from wildlife, among which the biggest attractions are the “Big Five” of the lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhino, but from travel linked to the continent’s technology start-ups.

These, the report says, are “flourishing across Africa, which is entering a new era of innovation, boosting economies and offering a fresh image to international tourists”.

The researchers highlight US President Barack Obama’s visit to Africa for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit to support the continent’s inventors and future business leaders as adding a tailwind to this trend.

More than half of African countries have at least a tech-hub, according to the World Bank, while investments through this hub doubled last year to reach $27 million.

Among such attractions are technology parks such as Ghana’s Hope City, and Kenya’s developing Konza Technology City, the report says.

“Investment in infrastructure, including transportation and education will be required for these hubs to be successful, as well as good regulatory environments fore foreign investors”.

The report notes that all the new planned technology cities feature plans for both local and international hotel developments.

While a lot of tech tourism is largely concentrated on facilitating business trips and app development, but there is also a growing number of travel-start-ups.

Because many are looking to grow into the region, air travel and lodging are among the obvious beneficiaries.

Started only in 2013, Nigeria’s largest online hotel booking site ha already listed over 7,000 hotels in the West African country, and plans to grow into Ghana and other countries in the region.

“The growing technology sector in Africa is helping to expand the travel industry, the site’s CEO Mark Essien said. “Easier online discovery combined with growing consumer confidence in online bookings has made it extremely straightforward for us to cater directly to travellers’ needs.”

Apps such as South Africa’s are also highlighted, as are projects such as Ampion Venture Bus, which sees entrepreneurs travel around the continent aiding local developers and which has led to the creation of 30 local start-ups.

The report says business air arrivals are expected to post Compounded Annual Growth Rates (CAGR) of 5% for South Africa, and 6% for Kenya, for the period to 2019.

And in a good cheer note, the report note that despite a recent slowdown, outbound Chinese travellers are increasing, buoyed by disposable incomes.

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