Despite its wealth of natural attractions, Africa still only attracts 4.2% of the world's tourists. Unchallenged negative stereotypes about the continent and an over-reliance on traditional markets are undermining growth in the sector. This can be corrected. Report by Thomas Collins.
While much has been said about the political and economic realities of Africa, one sector is consistently overlooked: tourism.
For many African countries, the sector plays a significant role in the economy and as the world deepens its inter-connectivity, the continent is presented with a sizeable opportunity.
Indeed, from picture-perfect beaches and great open savannahs to bustling metropolises full of culture, Africa has much to offer.
It is sad then that most non-Africans travelling the continent do so either only for business, or for humanitarian purposes.
Africa has still not penetrated global consciousness as a viable holiday destination and according to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) attracted only 4.2% of the world's tourists last year.
Interestingly, the best way to explain these low figures is by looking less at tangible assets like infrastructure anapower and more at intangible assets like perceptions and stereotypes.
Africa's failure to remarket itself has left the brand overwhelmingly defined by media images of conflict, poverty and disease.
Yet for all who regularly engage with the continent, the 'single story' characterisation of Africa barely scratches the surface.
Thankfully, nuance is slowly being added to the continent's voice and people like Taleb Rifai, ex Secretary-General of UNWTO, remain positive about the future while recognising the issues at hand.
Only way is up
"Tourism in Africa is still very novel but it is catching up quickly," says Rifai. "The important thing is that the growth rate in Africa is higher than anywhere else in the world."
Currently Africa attracts between 60-65m tourists per year but Rifai predicts this figure will more than double to 150m by 2030.
A large and often overlooked explanation of this predicted growth is the ever-increasing importance of the Chinese market in all aspects of African affairs.
Last year, the UNWTO logged that Chinese tourists spent $258bn globally, almost twice as much as the US in second place, and $70bn more than Germany, France and the UK combined.
Rifai argues that Africa must capitalise on this growing phenomenon and advises a move away from more traditional...