The perception is that Africa is poverty-stricken, but that is not strictly so, and tourists should head our way, writes Danny Bryer.
Africa is the second most populous continent and not too long ago we were told there were now more than 1 billion of us living together on this patch of earth.
The biggest global misconception about the continent, though, is that we are almost universally poverty-stricken.
For now, that perception may not be a bad thing, as it gives us a head start in the race for a bigger slice of Africa’s disposable income. This is particularly significant to South Africa’s travel and tourism sector, which has been showing slow but steady growth.
The problem with slow and steady, though, is there won’t be enough time for the tortoise to reach the finish line before we come up against the first National Development Plan (NDP) targets in 2020. It’ll be almost impossible for the sector, identified as one of the economy’s key growth industries, to meet its targets of creating an additional 225 000 jobs and a contribution to GDP of R499 billion.
We’re also facing additional challenges posed by the changes to visa requirements for entry to South Africa, which include original birth certificates for minors and presentation in person for biometric visa applications.
While some may say “so what if you miss the NDP deadline”, the reality is that achieving those goals is more than just ticking a box in a Treasury report.
Travel and tourism is a labour-intensive sector and growth means job creation in a country where some sources cite the unemployment rate in the under-25 age group at 60 percent or more.
In the travel and tourism industry, job creation will be retarded if we don’t find new source markets to bolster inbound tourism. It would be foolhardy to rely on high double-digit annual increases in domestic travel numbers to make up the difference.
A targeted long-term strategy to become sub-Saharan Africa’s central inbound travel hub is critical, which means more rather than fewer flights into the country.
So where are we spending our money promoting Destination South Africa?
The bulk of the hundreds of millions of rand disbursed by the public and private sectors on the external promotion of the country each year is going to the Americas, Europe, India and the Far East – most significantly China.
While continuing to promote destination South Africa to traditional and overseas emerging markets is a sound policy, the various parties work independently of each other and there is substantial duplication.
Also, South Africa remains a long- haul destination, and therefore comparatively expensive.
This brings us full circle to Africa’s burgeoning economy. Next year seven of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies are likely to be in Africa.
In sub-Saharan Africa, at least 15 countries not entirely immersed in conflict have projected GDP growth rates of more than 6 percent this year, and some are expected to grow by up to 9 percent.
Across Africa there is greater political stability, and in countries with vast mineral and energy reserves there is more government will than before to expand infrastructure and establish supplementary industries at home, rather than simply exporting raw materials.
It is this region I consider to be our best option to open new source markets for both leisure tourism and the meetings, conferences and exhibitions sector that is already a rich font of forex for South Africa.
The African Development Bank believes about 300 million Africans are earning enough to be categorised as middle class.
Considering the extensive debate around the exact definition of “middle class”, though, more conservative estimates put the number at somewhere between 130 and 140 million people.
Not everyone will travel, but even halving that provides a market of 70 million potential travellers. This sheer weight of numbers makes it worth launching aggressive campaigns in a handful of African countries.
West African markets like Nigeria and Ghana make the most sense for the initial campaigns. Nigeria’s massive population is skewed toward youth, and 70 percent of middle class Nigerians are under the age of 40 with an established consumer culture.
There are also potential markets in Tanzania, Uganda, Botswana and Zambia. If those campaigns bear fruit they can be rapidly extended to other African countries. It verges on insanity to ignore just such an opportunity that’s right on our doorstep.
* Bryer is director of sales, marketing and revenue for Protea Hotels, part of Marriott International.
** The views expressed here are not necssarily those of Independent Newspapers.