The impact of the current political instability in Africa on the tourism industry and the way forward

At the beginning of the year 2011, Africa was making impressive strides in the global statistics of the performance of the tourism industry. According to the UNWTO, Africa was the only region to achieve an increase of 3% in the year 2009 in terms of international tourist arrivals despite the global financial crisis and economic recession of 2008 and 2009. And the momentum of the arrivals had increase to 6% in 2010 which was boosted by the worldwide exposure created by the hosting of the FIFA World Football Cup by South Africa (UNWTO Tourism Barometer, February 2011). The international tourist arrivals to Africa were 49 million representing 5% of the total of 935 million arrivals in 2010.

For the UNWTO, their prospect for the continent in terms of arrivals is pegged at 4% to 7% growth for 2011. The attainment of this growth is going to be difficult to achieve because of the current political instability in the North Africa and La Côte d’Ivoire. The UNWTO did their estimation before the incidence of the political crisis in North Africa where some of most popular tourist destinations on the continent are located such as Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt in terms of international arrivals. But the organisation thinks that it is too early to forecast the long term effect on the industry and they feel that although the political crisis in the North Africa would have negative impacts but it will be less significant on over all trends for the region (UNWTO Tourism Barometer, February 2011).  

Safety and security is one of the current tourist trends that tourists do take into consideration when they are deciding what destinations they should visit. Buhalis et al. describes tourism as a volatile one. The slightest whispers of political discontent typically send tourist arrivals plummeting (Buhalis et al., 2006). Documented evidence from over the world does give credence to the impact that political instability have on the tourist demand of destination countries. Nepal, Fiji, China and Ghana are some of the countries that had their tourism industry affected by political crisis. In Ghana, the repeated coups in Ghana which did happened before the return of multi-party democracy in 1992 resulted in major downturns in tourist demand to the country.  

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), in one of their news feature about the political situation in Egypt showed how the current situation is affecting the country’s tourism industry. did suspend their flights to Red Sea resort in Egypt which made some British tourists to Egypt really furious because their trips have been cut short (BBC, February 2011).  There was a travel warning for Britons going to Tunisia from the Foreign Office in the United Kingdom during the political crisis in January.  Even though the warning have been lifted, Britons are been asked to be well informed and monitor the situation in Tunisia closely before embarking on any trips to the country (BBC, February 2011).

Furthermore, political instability has been noted to have the ability to tarnish the image of an entire region (Buhalis et al., 2006). Coming at heels of the continent already having negative image among the tourists, this current situation on the Africa continent have the potential to worse the already bad image that tourists have.

Certain questions have to be asked and solutions have to be found by the managers of the destinations across the continent amidst this current political situation. Firstly, are other destination countries experiencing the adverse effects of the political crisis on their tourism industry as it been experienced in North Africa and La Côte d’Ivoire? What kind of strategies are they planning to cumber the negative implications? Lastly, are the individual Destination Management Organisations (DMOs) in other Africa countries planning to turn the situation into a positive one by targeting these tourists who have their idea destination for their holidays in these trouble countries turn into unsuitable place to visit?

The writer is advocating that Africa countries that have similar or different tourist offerings can embark on vigorous marketing of their destinations to target the estimated tourists that were expected to come to the North Africa but because of the current situation they are at limbo where to visit now. No one should misconstrue that the writer is delight that there are crisis in these countries. But what would be better of the two scenarios that these expected tourists find other alternative destinations outside Africa or they go to almost equally suitable destinations on the continent where their safety and security is assured.

The latter is preferred choice because at least some of the estimated receipts from the tourists will stay on the Africa continent. The receipts from the tourism industry act as an important component of the economies of most Africa countries. Kenya, South Africa, Gambia and Ghana, just to mention a few are some of the countries that depend on tourism for the sustainability of their economy. In Ghana, tourism is the fourth foreign exchange earner for the country as well as providing employment to the citizenry. If DMOs are able to embark on this marketing drive, less known tourist attractions on the continent can blossom when the opportunity is given.

Finally, hope there is an end is in sight for the countries that are experiencing political instability on the continent because the situation does not augur well with our image as preferred tourist destination any good.