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News Article

Unlocking Africa’s tourism potential

Transport and entry policies must be liberalized, say Ministers

As highlighted in several reports covered this summer on Leisure Tourism, tourism in Africa is an important tool for economic development. During 1995–2014, international tourist arrivals to Africa grew by an average of 6 per cent per year and tourism export revenues, 9 per cent per year. A recent UNCTAD report on tourism in Africa showed that intra-African tourism is becoming increasingly important, and now exceeds visitor traffic from Europe, the USA and Asia. But regional tourism growth is still hampered by poor connectivity of air transport, and visa restrictions which mean that Africans need visas to travel to 55% of other African countries. At the 41st Annual World Tourism Conference in Kigali, Rwanda on 28-31 August, Tourism Ministers called on governments to liberalize tourism policies and make it easier for tourists and tour operators to move through the continent and enhance tourism growth.

The call came in a panel session at the Africa Travel Association conference, entitled “Unlocking Africa’s tourism potential”. Among the speakers was Tokozile Xasa, South Africa’s Minister of Tourism.

“Africa still grapples with intra-continental movement issues, which hamper tourism growth. Our governments should liberalize tourism policies through regional cooperation on easing visa restrictions and implementing open sky policies, if we are to move a step ahead globally in terms of tourism prosperity” she said.

Zimbabwe’s Minister of Tourism, Walter Mzembi, also emphasized that African governments have to decide whether to ease visa restrictions and open up their airspace to competition, or continue hindering the growth of the tourism sector.

These calls are not new. For many years, restrictive air transport policies and visa requirements have been highlighted as holding back not just tourism, but trade and economic growth within Africa. Protectionism, and regional tensions, have made negotiating more open policies a slow and tortuous process. But some progress is being made, and in East Africa there is now a common visa available which allows entry into three of the region’s countries, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda.

“The single tourist visa and passport-free travel between Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda, is already a reality. So is visa on arrival in Rwanda for all African nationals,” said Rwandan President Paul Kagame, addressing the recent conference.

Kagame added that there’s need to take full advantage of new technology, particularly innovative digital platforms, to attract more visitors as well as offering new experiences, and provide better services.

The African Union's "Agenda 2063" laid out the far-reaching goal of free movement of persons in a continent "with seamless borders," and set the more immediate target of 2018 for "the abolishment of visa requirements for all African citizens in all African countries." This target is a long way from being achieved, but the Africa Visa Openness Report from the African Development Bank and the African Union does show some progress , with Ghana and Senegal taking the lead in opening up their borders to visitors from more African countries. Africans now need visas to travel to slightly fewer countries than they did in 2015, and 13 African countries now offer electronic visas, up from 9 the previous year.

The report shows that war-torn central Africa remains the most closed region, while east and west Africa have opened up the most. But as Pierre Guislain, Vice-President of the African Development Bank says in the forward to the Visa Openness Report, “We need to match the realities with the rhetoric”.

A new website,, will track progress of each African country in facilitating travel within the continent.

To find database records on tourism in Africa, try starting with the search tourism AND (up:africa OR gl:africa), and then filtering by country or subject topic to drill down to the location or topic of interest to you.

Article details

  • Author(s)
  • David Simpson
  • Date
  • 04 September 2017
  • Subject(s)
  • Tourism
  • Travel and Technology