According to Statista, tourism employs over two hundred million people worldwide, contributing ten percent to GDP each year before the pandemic. Africa, being the world’s second-largest and second-most-populous continent, has a lot to offer and benefit from tourism.
A study by the International Finance Corporation reveals that tourism activities contributed nearly eight percent to the continent’s GDP from over 24 million tourists and other stakeholders in 2019.
However, the pandemic forced many tourism stakeholders to rethink their activities. Like other countries, Africa must respond to the global call for sustainability, and tourism, as one of the leading economic sectors, is no exception. That’s the future of Tourism and our focus for this article.
What is ecotourism
The ecotourism concept has been in existence since the early 1980s, even though its use has increased significantly in recent years. The concept started as a proactive response to partake in tourism activities without destroying the environment.
The concept has evolved a great deal with several definitions relating to different contexts. The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) defines ecotourism as responsibly traveling and enjoying natural areas to conserve the environment and sustain the well-being of the local people.
Other definitions move ecotourism beyond merely visiting natural places. For instance, the United Nations World Tourism Organization defines an ecotouristic activity as satisfying several indicators, including minimizing negative environmental effects, supporting the maintenance of natural areas, and increasing awareness of natural and cultural assets.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) also sees ecotourism as a great tool for conservation. However, the concept can’t be seen as a fix-all solution to the world’s conservation challenges.
To sum it all up, ecotourism can simply be explained using two words, traveling responsibly. The term denotes inculcating a sense of awareness into the conscience of travelers about the fact that any tourist attraction is home to a species, tangible and intangible. And these species deserve to live and not be threatened by any individual’s tourism interest.
Ecotourism definitely has a place in Africa. Searching for eco tourism in Africa should bring up several destinations already leading the way in entrenching this concept in the continent’s tourism landscape.
Why ecotourism is the future of tourism
Ecotourism continues to gain ground in today’s tourism industry generating over 90 billion dollars in 2019. Experts predict the global ecotourism market to cross a hundred billion dollars by 2027. But what are the odds?
Pushing the world towards a net-zero growth
Tourism has always had a sustainability problem regarding waste management and pollution. The United Nations Environment Program says waste from tourism activities contributes 14 percent of global solid waste volumes and five percent to global greenhouse gas emissions.
The world faces a climate emergency, and economic sectors like the tourism industry and its stakeholders cannot continue to make excuses for their threats to the environment.
The Sustainable Development goals have outlined strategies to limit the climate’s accelerating deteriorating rate. This makes ecotourism a crucial indicator of the tourism industry’s future and how tourists can play a role in sustaining the world.
Ecotourism can be a sure-fire way to move away from the high amounts of pollution caused by tourists. Ecotourism aims to sensitize tourists and key tourism players, ensuring they subject their activities to environmental sustainability.
Preserving culture and traditions
Culture is a resource that can’t be cut away from tourism. Every destination comes with its unique tradition that has sustained the indigenes for a long time.
While good old tourism involves foreigners seeing places for the first time, ecotourism ensures tourists understand the significance of the destinations they visit.
Ecotourism demands tourists to empathize with history than judge indigenes by their past. It can also help tourists revere norms and partake in local activities rather than foreigners imposing their concepts on indigenes when they visit.
This way, ecotourism can help indigenes preserve their cultures, leveraging the value of their cultures for multiple benefits in the future.
Diversifying tourism tastes and preferences
The future of every industry hinges on its stakeholders’ ability to break barriers, innovate and equitably distribute its opportunities.
Take the automobile industry, for instance. It continues to expand using technology to make driving easier, more environmentally safe, and convenient, especially for drivers with special needs.
Ecotourism can be the tourism industry’s foray into new ways of enjoying tourism activities.
Often, tourists rush for destinations when they are in vogue and move to others based on industry trends. This way of enjoying tourism leads tourists to recycle a few attractions neglecting many others yet to be discovered.
How ecotourism can benefit the African continent
Ecotourism has ushered some of the world’s most impoverished communities unto the radar of many global travelers. African countries like Madagascar, Kenya, Ghana, etc., have already reaped immense benefits from ecotourism.
Several ways exist for the African tourism community can benefit from ecotourism, including:
Great way to attract tourism financing
Sustainability is a crucial topic for many governments development financiers.
Investors will not only look for a tourism venture’s revenue generation ability but also how its activities affect the environment in the long haul.
That means the African tourism community has a better chance of securing funds from international partners on the ticket of ecotourism.
Consistent financing plays a vital role in developing the tourism industry, especially when it comes to infrastructure development and attracting more travel volumes.
In 2017, the top ten tourist destinations spent 729 billion dollars and attracted 529 million tourists. In 2018, the community attracted fewer travelers after decreasing their spending.
Therefore the more the African tourism community can access sustainable financing, the better their chances of improving tourism’s impact on the economy.
Using ecotourism as a bargaining chip has become more crucial now than ever as the industry navigates the post-pandemic future and its associated changes.
Making tourism more accessible to local indigenes
Over the years, the patronage of local destinations favors more foreigners than African living on the continent. Several factors, including disparities in disposable income, can account for this trend.
However, there is no denying that poor roads, accommodation prices, and inconsistent marketing, among other causes, continue to make tourism unattractive to Africans.
Not all tourism should be targeted at renting luxurious hotels and exploring fancy locations. Placing value on cultural festivals through ecotourism can make tourism attractive and affordable for African tourists.
Leveling the playing field for women
Tourism in Africa thrives on the backs of many hardworking women who have often brushed aside. You can talk of many uncelebrated female heroes whose stories are yet to be told and several others passing on tradition and culture to newer generations.
Ecotourism can afford women the room to actively participate in tourism and enjoy significant benefits.
Sensitizing tourists to prioritize the work of local women in destinations they visit can be a great way to boost equality at the local level.
Many individuals increasingly realize the impact of going green across all industries, including tourism. Ecotourism can be a great way for the African community to attract volunteers through ethical programs, drawing from their expertise and knowledge.
5 Top sustainable tourism destinations in Africa
In Africa, some countries and specific cities have adopted sustainable tourism championing the concept on the world stage. The top five sustainable tourism destinations include:
Namibia is touted as Africa’s ecotourism leader due to the country’s early governmental efforts to preserve wildlife.
The country has a constitutional decree to build conservatories, including local villages, safaris, and other social enterprises. The best part is that many of its ecotourism infrastructures were built by local talents using local materials giving the place an experience you can barely get anywhere in the world.
Zanzibar can be your best bet if you’re one for beaches and a fan of sun-basking. The small archipelago spanning a little over sixty miles long and 20 miles wide has a lot to offer tourists.
You can find UNESCO world heritage sites like the magical ‘Stone Town’, which is one of a few functioning indigenous towns left in East Africa.
South Africa is one of Africa’s tourism capitals. Before the pandemic, the country recorded over 16 million tourists each year.
Ecotourism sites like the 270-square mile Majete Wildlife park have been protected since 1995. Poachers in the park’s early days endangered the lives of many animals.
The park’s tourism activities have increased over the last few years after fencing off the park and increasing its animal capacity.
In 2016, the park generated about four hundred thousand dollars, and the patronage has been on an upward trend ever since. Some of the park’s revenue goes into developing its immediate communication by establishing health research programs, providing scholarship opportunities, etc.
Seychelles is rich in history, best known for its role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The island still bears enough evidence of the slavery era through museums, architecture, and historical sites.
Beyond that, Seychelles features numerous beach locations for travelers to enjoy a pristine African beach experience. Seychelles continues to prioritize travelers’ safety as they enjoy beach activities like pedal boating, sea kayaking, windsurfing, snorkeling, etc.
Ghana’s flagship ‘Year of Return’ tourism project raised its status as the gateway of Africa. Many tourists from the diaspora thronged Ghana to mark 400 years since the first slave ship landed on its shores.
Some of the popular ecotourism destinations include Mole National Park, Shai Hills, and Atewa Forest, which recently made the news for accommodating a rarely seen Shelley’s Eagle-Owl.