As U.S. President Barack Obama wraps up his trip to Senegal today and gets ready for the second leg of his African tour with a visit to South Africa, followed by Tanzania, Africa’s tourism stakeholders in government and in the private sector, are viewing the trip as an important opportunity to market the continent to American tourists and investors.
The timing of President Obama’s trip couldn’t be any better, especially with Africa becoming a more accessible tourism market for Americans.
According to the Department of Commerce’s Office of Travel & Tourism Industries, Europe is still the number one destination of choice, followed by the Caribbean, Asia-Pacific and Latin America. But the outlook for both business and leisure travel to Africa is bright. While the number of U.S. visitors to the African continent has been down in recent years, spending by U.S. travelers has increased every year, up 150% from 2003.
This is especially good news for Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania, countries that will not only host the President and his family, but also large delegations of American economic officials, business executives and journalists.
During President Obama’s three-country, week-long tour, each delegate – or visitor – will play an important role in the growth of the specific destination. As we all know, tourism changes a visitor’s perception of a place that he or she may have only read about or watched on the news.
Tourism also leads to direct investment in the local economy. Every taxi ride, restaurant meal, hotel stay, street purchase, and museum visit has an immediate impact on the local community and people’s lives.
In the medium-to-long-term, tourism creates opportunities for job creation, earnings, business investment, trade and entrepreneurship. It also can pave the way for environmental and cultural preservation, strengthened national identity and political understanding.
The Africa Travel Association has been bringing large delegations from the United States to Africa for 38 years now. In fact, Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania all have longtime relationships with the association. Each one has hosted an ATA travel industry events, dating back to ATA’s eco and cultural tourism symposium in the coastal town of Saly, Senegal in 1992 and, most recently, ATA’s 36th world congress in Dakar, Senegal in 2011.
Events like these – two in Senegal, two in South Africa and three in Tanzania – have a longstanding and lasting impact on U.S. and African relations.
When President Obama stops in Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania, trade, investment and business, alongside development, democratization and Africa’s youth population will be the topics on hand. Tourism intersects with each one of these issues.
President Obama understands this connection. Remember when he urged Congress and the country to back his tourism initiative to welcome more visitors to the USA in January 2012 or his most recent efforts to bring visitors back to the New Jersey Shore after Hurricane Sandy?
Maybe the right elements are beginning to fall into place.
We have a U.S. President, who understands the potential of tourism to create jobs, a delegation that is thinking about economic opportunity, trade and public-private partnerships, and stable countries that are targeting the American source market. What else could we hope for?
Edward Bergman is Executive Director, Africa Travel Association