East Africa has fallen off the radar of many global tourists in the coming year because of insecurity fears and poor marketing, as visitors troop to more attractive destinations like Mauritius and South Africa.
South Africa and Mauritius were ranked by tourists as the preferred tourist destinations in Africa for 2014, edging out East African countries who over the past two years have featured high on the list.
Tanzania and Zanzibar are ranked four and five.
Seychelles was ranked third. The survey was conducted by Visa, the global payments company. The majority of tourists who plan to travel to Africa next year have left out Kenya, Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda as possible destinations, citing insecurity, access to healthcare and lack of information on what the East African countries offer. Some 45 per cent of the respondents cited safety reasons for shunning Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya, while 37 per cent said they never even considered the region as a top destination.
Another 29 per cent cited health concerns and not being sure of what to see in Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania. The survey said 53 per cent of travellers are concerned about safety in Rwanda. “Travellers from China and India prefer beach destinations such as Mauritius and traditional destinations like South Africa. However, for those from South Africa who may be familiar with the region, more diverse destinations within sub-Saharan Africa such as Mozambique, Namibia and Zanzibar are proving to be popular choices for future travel,” said Visa’s Sub Saharan Africa Global Travel Intentions Study for 2013 released on Wednesday.
The findings are a blow to efforts by EAC countries to increase their share of the growing global tourism market. In its strategic plan for the current financial year, the EAC Secretariat has lined up several projects to increase tourism earnings from $7 billion to $16 billion annually by 2020.
Visa said 29 per cent of travellers to Africa are affluent, compared with the global average of 18 per cent, highlighting the opportunity that East African countries could tap into through increased marketing.
They stay in luxury hotels and resorts (59 per cent to the global 39 per cent), which bodes well for the growing number of luxury resorts and safari stays in Africa.
“These well-heeled tourists naturally spend more, stay in more comfortable resorts and pay for personal guides,” the survey stated.
The region may have to rethink its tourism marketing strategies. The survey suggests introducing tailor-made packages that are informed by the areas of interest that people from a specific country look for.
Kenya and Tanzania’s safari circuits, Rwanda’s gorilla trekking and Uganda’s beautiful scenery and gorilla trekking have been the biggest selling points for the four countries. East Africa’s tourism sector had a bumpy ride in 2013, even though governments pumped millions of dollars into marketing to cushion the industry from a slowdown arising from regional insecurity and the Eurozone crisis.
“Despite the climate of continued economic uncertainty and a relatively weak global economy, it is expected that leisure travel will continue to grow with increasingly positive sentiments regarding intended future travel,” said Visa.
In 2014, Kenya projects two million tourist arrivals. Tanzania, forecasts 1.5 million visitors by the end of this year as it breaks into new Asian markets. The Bank of Tanzania said in its September Monthly Economic Review that earnings from tourism surged from $1.61 billion in January to September 2012, to $1.82 billion during the same period this year.
As the year closes, Uganda continues to experience an increase in the number of tourist arrivals, an indication that the coming year could see an even better performance in the sector. Rwanda targets $317 million from the tourism industry in 2013, according to Rwanda Development Board (RDB) projections.
The Visa survey mirrors the ranking in the latest World Economic Forum (WEF) survey on global tourism and travel competitiveness, which showed that Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Burundi were trailing emerging destinations in sub-Saharan Africa such as Seychelles, Mauritius and South Africa.
In the sub-Saharan region, the three were ranked at the top of the survey, followed by Cape Verde, Namibia, Gambia and Botswana. Kenya, East Africa’s top tourism investment destination, came eighth.
The WEF cited insufficient property rights protection, insecurity, lengthy and costly business procedures and dilapidated infrastructure as drawbacks. In the sub-Saharan Africa rankings, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda took positions nine, 12 and 13 respectively. Burundi was ranked at 30.
Industry players said they were already receiving higher bookings for the next year compared with the same period last year. “With increased marketing, we hope to go even better, possibly increase by about 50 per cent,” said Amos Wekesa, a board member of the Uganda Tourism Board. In 2012, Uganda earned $1 billion from tourism, up from $850 million earned in 2011. The forecast is based on Uganda’s rating as best travel destination by Lonely Planet, the world’s largest travel guide, which chose Uganda as the best tourist destination in the world for 2012.
Uganda beat nine other countries including Myanmar, Ukraine, Jordan, Denmark, Bhutan, Cuba, New Caledonia, Taiwan and Switzerland. Mr Wekesa said the government was planning to allocate $10 million to marketing next year, up from the $300,000 it has been receiving over the past years. He is optimistic that when the EAC single visa is implemented next year, the individual countries will benefit more by reducing the time tourists spend looking for visas. Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya are set to roll out the single tourist visa in January.
Visa’s advice on the concerns over safety and health issues states, “Countries seeking to increase visitor numbers should look to develop these areas as well as communicate their countries’ strong points in safety and health to potential visitors.”
Kenya’s tourism players have been pushing the government to allocate between five and 10 per cent of the revenue generated from the sector to Kenya Tourist Board marketing activities. The sector earned Ksh96 billion ($1.1 billion) last year, but its marketing budget is just Ksh750 million ($8.8 million) for the current fiscal year.
“The consideration in how much to allocate to tourism should be how much it contributes, maybe give it all back and see the impact,” said Waturi Matu, the co-ordinator of the East African Tourism Platform. “Uganda cannot compete favourably with the other countries in the region in tourism marketing. We have a very big funding challenge,” said Cuthbert Balinda, executive director of the Uganda Tourism Board. In Rwanda, the tourism sector registered improved growth as the revenue generated increased by 17 per cent last year from 2011, to become the lead export earner. Tourism generated $281.8 million in 2012, up from $251.3 million the previous year, data from the RDB shows.
“We have to clean up the negative perception that is blown out of proportion any time a security-compromising situation arises,” said Ms Matu.
The latest insecurity incident in Kenya was in September when terrorists attacked the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, killing over 60 people. Some countries issued travel advisories despite assurances from the Kenyan government that they were in control.
Kenya is East Africa’s hub; many tourists stop over to connect with flights to other East African countries.
Moody’s, the rating agency, predicts that the attack will cost Kenya between $200 million and $250 million mostly in lost tourism revenue, and will slow the growth of Kenya’s GDP by 0.5 per cent.
The latest arrival figures released by the Kenya Tourist Board in September 2013 show a nine per cent decline in arrivals for the first half of 2013, compared with the same period in 2012.
In November 2012, the arrival figures indicated a 2.6 per cent decline over a similar period in 2011. The industry has therefore been in continual decline since January 2012.
EAC countries have looking to the Far East for more tourists, a market that Mauritius and South Africa are also targeting.
“We seek to diversify by investing heavily in emerging markets such as Brazil, India, China and Africa,” said Phyllis Kandie, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for East African Affairs, Commerce and Tourism.
Statistics show that China will have 200 million outbound tourists by 2020. The region is hoping to ride on Kenya Airways’ reach in Asia — with flights to Bangkok, Guangzhou, Delhi and Mumbai — to market the region as a tourism destination.
Some 43 per cent of people in the Asia Pacific region — which includes Australia, China, Hong King, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand — intend to travel to Africa within the next year, but South Africa and Mauritius are their top destinations.
Tourists from South Africa said they preferred Mauritius and Mozambique. South Africa is the second top source of tourists for Kenya in Africa, after Uganda.
SOURCE: The East African
SOURCE: The East African