Could Africa be the next travel destination?

Tourism is just one of the tools that can help with the reduction of unemployment, but in order for it to flourish, countries must brand and position themselves in the right way.

We are not accustomed to reading the words “Africa” and “travel destination” in the same sentence. Yet the United Nations World Tourism Organization projects the number of tourists visiting Africa will grow by 4% to 6% in 2012, a rate surpassing Europe, the Middle East, and the Americas. 

Tourism is one of the fastestacr-growing sectors in the world, and it is also a powerful economic stimulant. A stimulant such as this has the potential to reduce poverty through the creation of jobs, the opening of small business, and urban and rural development. Unemployment is endemic across much of the continent where the term “Generation U” refers specifically to the population ages 15 to 24 who make up nearly 60% of the continent's unemployed, according to the African Economic Outlook. This high unemployment rate could have a crippling impact on the optimistic economic forecasts that were discussed in the previous blog post.

Tourism is just one of the tools that can help with the reduction of unemployment, but in order for it to flourish, countries must brand and position themselves in the right way. Beyond traditional safaris, sub-Sahara Africa especially is not seen as a region for vacations that involve beaches, carnivals, historical sites, and outdoor activities. Yet all of these exist in abundance.

Enter stage right the public relations industry (we entered stage left on Monday). We have the solutions that build awareness, create identities, develop stories, and evoke inspiration. African tourism organizations both governmental and private should adopt high-level western PR strategies and leverage qualified and trained practitioners who both know the continent and have the expertise to speak to the international audiences. They should raise awareness that sub-Sahara Africa is open, safe, and ready for travel.

The following elements are a few of a number of strategies that would go a long way in presenting Africa as the next travel destination:

Leverage influencers: Barbados has announced that international superstar Rihanna will become the “face of Barbados” promoting tourism to the island. African celebrities should be leveraged in the same way. Actors such as Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Thandie Newton, and former Victoria Secret model Oluchi are just a few celebrities who have deep connections to the continent.

Spread good news: Africa is not associated with the joyous energy and fun of carnivals or beautiful serene beaches, but these exist across sub-sahara Africa, and the awareness of this should be aggressively pushed. Sierra Leone is home to some of the best beaches in the whole of Africa, if not the world, and has been a safe, stable, and welcoming country for over a decade but still remains tied to images of war.

Brand advocates: Africa's nations need to forge stronger ties with their diaspora populations so both at home and abroad they can speak in one voice and one message. First generation Africans born in the US often have tarnished views of “back home” based on stories from parents that derive from an era long past. They should be engaged and encouraged to return and discover their roots. This will allow them to rediscover these countries and return to the US as brand advocates.

Issues surrounding infrastructure, poverty, and lack of hospitality training are real challenges to burgeoning tourism in the short-term, but with continued investment coupled with a dedicated PR and branding strategy, Africa could be on target to become the next travel destination of choice.

Claudine Moore is founder of C Moore Media.

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