Traveling to experience places and people other than their own, tourists spend money on hotels, restaurants, tours, transportation, entertainment, visits to museums and historic sites, and souvenirs. The business of providing those goods and services, the tourism industry, accounts for a significant part of the incomes of some African countries.
Tourism in Africa began in the 1800s, when Europeans making what was called the “grand tour” of Europe began extending their travels to include more exotic destinations. MOROCCO, ALGERIA, SOUTH AFRICA, and especially EGYPT and the NILE RIVER valley attracted many European visitors. Tourists favored these areas largely because they were located on the Mediterranean Sea, or because they had been colonized by Europeans and were regarded as linked to Europe culturally.
A different type of African tourism was popular from about 1918 to 1939, the years between WORLD WARS I and II. Wealthy Europeans and North Americans traveled to Africa for safaris, excursions on which they hunted big game such as elephants and lions. Many returned to their homes with trophies in the form of animal heads or skins and with photographs of their hunting adventures.
Since the end of World War II in 1945, Africa's tourism industry has boomed. As commercial airlines made travel faster and less expensive, many more people could afford to make overseas visits. Tour companies developed and advertised package tours, or preplanned vacations, of a week or two in Africa.
Archaeological and historical marvels, such as Egypt's PYRAMIDS and the stone ruins of Great Zimbabwe, also draw crowds. The most popular countries for mass tourism have been South Africa, KENYA, ZIMBABWE, Morocco, TUNISIA, and Egypt. However, the operators of package tours now offer visits to more remote parts of Africa.
Ecotourism, or tourism in natural settings, is the fastest growing trend in African tourism. Visitors on safari tours in eastern and southern Africa aim cameras instead of rifles at local wildlife. Tourists to Africa's Indian Ocean islands, such as the COMOROS and the SEYCHELLES, scuba dive along spectacular coral reefs. Others seek a glimpse of mountain gorillas in UGANDA, lemurs in MADAGASCAR, or rare birds in BOTSWANA. In Ghana's Kakum National Park, tourists can explore the rain forest canopy on a walkway that is suspended more than 90 feet above the ground.
Impact on African Life
Tourism has negative as well as positive effects. One is that the local people usually receive only a small part of the income from tourism. Most of it goes to foreign tour operators and African governments. Another is that tourists ignorant of local values and customs sometimes behave or dress in ways that offend Africans. In some nations, such as Egypt in the 1990s, radical political and religious groups have attacked popular tourist sites to make trouble for national governments.
Even ecotourism poses problems. Just by passing through an area tourists may damage wildlife habitats, such as delicate reefs and rain forests. The pollution and development associated with a growing tourism industry may harm the environment for both animals and people. In some nations local peoples have been displaced from their homelands in order to preserve wilderness for ecotourism. In Tanzania, the Maasai people have been banned from the Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti National Park, forcing them to give up their traditional cattleherding lifestyle.
Despite such problems, however, tourism has become a key contributor to the income of many African countries. Recognizing the economic benefits of tourism, African governments have promoted it within their countries in a variety of ways. Some have established WILDLIFE AND GAME PARKS and protected marine areas; others have created new tourism policies to ensure that more tourism earnings directly benefit local communities. In some areas with few economic possibilities, tourism has provided jobs and economic development. For example, Algeria has constructed several successful resort hotels in oases of the SAHARA DESERT.