Interregional Tourism Holy Grail for Africa’s Economic Growth

Regional Blocs have an important role to play in setting up inter-regional tourism to facilitate the implementation of the Yamaousskro Decesion, thereby opening up the skies for Africa to enhance trade, tourism and economic growth.

African governments should take initiatives to liberate air transport, promoting the free movement of persons, ensuring currency convertibility and currently recognize the value of African tourism and plan for it.

These strategic measures can have relatively fast and tangible impacts. In Rwanda the abolishment of visa requirements for fellow members of the East African Community in 2011 helped increase interregional tourism from 283, 000 in 2010 to 478,000 in 2013 [according to UNCTAD].

If the government’s role is to enable investments and increase tourism industry competitiveness, then the role of the Regional Economic Committees (RECs) is surely to foster intra-African investment. Private sector investors do not believe that SADC’s Regional Tourism Organization of Southern Africa (RETOSA) has done so much to foster interregional tourism development. Even SADC’s Transfrontier Conservation Areas, which were supposed to be powerful catalysts for tourism development, have very little outcomes to measure despite the large amounts of donor funding that they have consumed.

In this regard, some regional bodies within the continent have managed to successfully facilitate for interregional tourism. ECOWAS has steamed ahead of SADC and other regional bodies in successfully boosting tourism linkages through their combined issuing of an ECOWAS Passport (facilitating ease of trade between West African countries and the liberation of affordable air travel, to facilitate affordability of movement between states.

Speaking at a Zimbabwe Council of Tourism convention in Victoria Falls in 2016, Regional Tourism Organization of Southern Africa (RETOSA) acting executive director Mr. Simba Mandinyenya said the region’s biggest challenge was defining growth on how much it is growing in the traditional overseas markets.

“Africa’s tourism market share has been stuck on five percent for a while now, it is time for a paradigm shift. The so called traditional markets should be secondary markets and the intra-regional markets must be the traditional markets as research shows that intra-regional tourism is the key to success,” said Mr Mandinyenya.

ECOWAS achieved this by supporting the development of ASKY, a private sector low-cost competitive airline based in Togo, with a 40% stake owned by Ethiopian Airline, as well as by spearheading the creation of bilateral agreements with West and Central Africa to open up to the skies to ASKY . ASKY’s network currently covers 23 destinations in 20 countries of west and central Africa, opening 174 multi stop flights a week with an average of 10 000 passengers.


In the context of Southern and East Africa only Zimbabwe and Tanzania have foregone protectionism to facilitate the implementation of open sky policies enabling not only the growth of Low Cost Carriers in their countries, but also creating valuable interregional tourism between them.

However inter-regional tourism to be an impact there is need for a mutual beneficial between peace and tourism. Peace is of course fundamental for tourism. The more appearance of instability within a region can deter tourists, leading to devastating, long-lasting economic consequences. However, the perception of danger does not always correspond with reality.

The economic impacts of political instability can be quite significant and long lasting. For example, following potential instability in Tunisia, total tourism receipts in 2009-2011 declined by 27% an average from $2,3 billion in 2009 to $2,5billion in 2011. Zimbabwe’s peaceable harmonized march on 18 November 2017 had an aftermath tangible bearing on the tourism receipts as the country witnessed an increase of tourists. Victoria Falls hotel occupancy soared to 92% during the festival season and in the Eastern Highlands hospitality accommodation where fully booked almost for the first time in a decade. Addressing safety and security concerns and swift responses to crisis by African governments and regional institutions is paramount to the growth of interregional tourism.

African governments move to liberalize air travel, coinciding with a push to open more borders does encourage inter-regional trade and tourism. Last year, Africans traveled more easily across the continent, and countries like Kenya, Namibia, and Ghana announced removing visa restrictions or granting visas on arrival. Yet some of the connectivity problems are set to become history when the Single African Air Travel Market (SAATM) is launched by the African Union (AU). As one of the AU’s pan-African Agenda 2063 flagship projects, the plan aims to improve air connectivity in Africa and use air transportation as an engine for economic growth, job creation, and integration.

Promoting strategies aiming at improving Africa’s image in the global media is also crucial in ensuring Africa’s economic growth and sectors recovery after conflict or potential unrest. It is important for operators to change their mindset and focus on branding Africa and marketing sub regions as one destination.

According to UNCTAD, tourism continued growth is expected to generate additional 11, 7 million jobs in Africa. To unlock interregional tourism potential, with continued investment into tourism sector in Africa could boost infrastructure development, lift millions out of poverty, whilst also contributing to peace and security in the region.

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