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Do we need to DECOLONISE Tourism?


I must be honest with you; this is a piece that I have been sitting on for some time. Not because I have doubted the need to start this conversation, but because I am starting it as a white South African. And if there is one thing being a white South African has taught me is the agency of skin colour. And while I accept that I was born with less melanoma than others, the fact is, I was born African. And I am not alone. Our continent is made up of tens of thousands of different cultures and skin tones, and we are all African. In all our splendid kaleidoscopic diversity.


We are all so different yet so united in our Africaness.


Yet this is something that we do not embrace or even celebrate.


This was one of the most troubling things I learned when I mapped and profiled tourism across the whole continent. Tourism in Africa is almost entirely focused on branding and marketing the continent to international tourists, and not to Africans. We sell Africa as the last frontier for discovery, the Wild West for adventure, as National Geographic brought to life. We sell Africa in the same way it has always been sold since the first Colonial World Expositions of the 1800’s. We sell Deepest Darkest Africa. What an exotic and thrilling drawcard.


The problem with branding and marketing tourism in Africa like this, is that this colonial lens has suffocated our industry. It has built an unhealthy reliance on international tourism, and served to alienate the African market, who is not considered to be as valuable as the European or American market. One only has to look at examples like Giraffe Manor in Nairobi, Kenya to see how this has played out during Covid.


What we are seeing brought to light is the complete mismatch between Africa’s tourism industry and the African tourism market. A market that feels far more comfortable and welcome travelling outside of Africa than within it. But this mismatch is not only on the marketing front, it is also on the product front. Africa’s tourism product is lacking, yes, I said lacking. The product that we have is dominated and restricted by this colonial lens. It is designed for international tourists and not for Africans. And I am not talking about the price point, there are enough Africans flying over to London to go shopping for the weekend to negate the stale adage that Africans do not have money.


I am talking about the fact that the dominant product that is developed and sold is the colonial Big 5 safari experience, with a cultural village thrown in for the photo opportunity. I am talking about the lack of product diversification that taps into the sheer excitement of the lived experience of the diversity of Africa. Product that is developed to electrify Nigerians to hop on a plane to Kenya, and Ghanaians to Algeria, or Tanzanians to Namibia. Product that is developed to inspire, ignite and compel the African market to discover and celebrate what it means to be African.


If Covid has taught us one thing it is that we desperately need to re-Africanise tourism on the continent. Especially since that international market that was the mainstay of the industry is not going to recover overnight. In fact, predictions are that it will take another 3 years to reach 2019 levels of arrivals.


What can Africa’s tourism industry do?


The first and most important step is to consider the goldmine you have on your doorstep in the form of your domestic tourists. Discounts may have worked so far to attract them, but this is not going to sustain you over the long-term. You need to tailor your product to excite this market. That is your key to success. Because if you can crack that code, you can then look at ways to excite and compel the over 313 million other African tourists on the continent.


If you want to learn more about why the African tourism market is so important, take a read of this.


And if you want to learn how to capture this market, reach out to me here.