Africa is becoming increasingly popular as a tourist destination. Figures by the UN World Tourism Organization show the continent will show an average growth rate in tourism of over five percent per year by 2020.
But Burghard Rauschelbach, head of the tourism and development program at the German Association for Technical Cooperation GTZ, said that such figures do not accurately reflect the realities of tourism in every African country.
"Tourism activity for sub-Saharan Africa increased, but it's a matter of the destination and country," Rauschelbach told Deutsche Welle.
Gambia, Senegal, the Seychelles and Swaziland saw a decrease in visitors, for example. On the other hand, tourism increased in South Africa, which captures about one-third of the 30 million visitors annually to sub-Saharan Africa.
Rauschelbach said South Africa's popularity was due its "variety for different target groups." The country offered safaris, adventure, cultural and beach holidays, as well as ecotourism.
Countries do not always benefit
It is not a coincidence that sub-Saharan Africa's most developed country also happens to be the leading tourist destination. The industry adds billions of dollars to the South African economy. It is expected to make up about 12 percent of the country's GDP by the time the World Cup in soccer kicks off there in June.
But even though tourism may boost economies, it has not always been beneficial to overall development. In large numbers, tourists can overwhelm local culture and traditions. Locals may not benefit much when the working conditions are bad, Rauschelbach said. More diversity in the products and services that are offered was needed in order for tourism to contribute to development.
TourismWatch, an NGO affiliated to the Protestant Church's Development Service EED, studies the effects of tourism on development. Its head Heinz Fuchs said that tour operators should incorporate corporate social responsibility (CSR) in their concepts, that is companies integrating social and environmental concerns in their business operations. This would allow tourism to contribute to progress in poor countries, Fuchs told Deutsche Welle.
This trend is one focus at the tourism fair ITB Berlin, taking place in the German capital this week. A CSR day is being held on Thursday.
Socially responsible tour operators
The German Travel Association said that a growing number of tour operators are engaged in CSR in their businesses. A good example was Studiosus, which offers "study trip" holiday packages in cooperation with partners in local destinations. It is more up-market because the vacations tend to be expensive. A two-week vacation to Ethiopia, for example, would cost well over 2,500 euros ($3,400 dollars).
Another organization that offers "alternative" volunteer holiday packages is TravelWorks. It cooperates with local partners in different parts of the world. The company offers travelers a stay with a host family combined with social or environmental work in a local institution.
Nico Siegmund, a young German student teacher who participated in a TravelWork program in Ghana in 2009, was happy with his experience there. But he said he felt that it was too costly. Siegmund's two-month volunteer holiday cost 960 euros without air fare, vaccinations, visa or other travel costs.
"It's pretty expensive because you have to pay for everything yourself, so the flights, the vaccines, travel insurance and the stay," Siegmund said.
A standard for corporate social responsibility in tourism
As the number of tour operators such as Studiosus and TravelWorks grow, which incorporate CSR and make it more significant for tourism, experts feel that there needs to be a standard for evaluating operators.
In Germany, the EED, KATE Center for Ecology and Development, the University of Applied Sciences in Eberswalde and Friends of Nature have been working on a standards-based measure for a tour operator's inclusion of CSR in their business concept.
After this year's ITB Berlin, the CSR label will be awarded to all tour operators that are ecologically and socially responsible. It's hoped that CSR will promote socially responsible tourism in a sustainable manner.
"Tourism needs business concepts that work economically and socially, so that people in the destination can benefit from it," Fuchs said.
Author: Chiponda Chimbelu
Editor: Sabina Casagrande