PUBLISHED ON January 12th, 2024

Visa-free regimes to bolster African tourism growth

Zimbabwe has recorded an exceptional 115,6 percent increase in tourist arrivals to resorts such as Victoria Falls.

African countries are set to record an increase in tourism numbers in 2024, as more countries continue to open their borders to other African countries by abolishing visa requirements.

In 2023, most African countries made significant strides to liberalise their visa regimes, with Rwanda and Kenya being the latest to completely remove visa requirements for all African travellers, joining Gambia, Benin, and Seychelles.

Kenya’s transition towards a visa-free regime saw the country’s Immigration Department receive almost 10,000 applications for the new Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) allowing foreign nationals to visit or transit through the country by air, in the first week of January 2024 alone.

The Immigration department was processing the applications based on the travel schedule submitted by each applicant, according to Kenya’s Immigration Principal Secretary Julius Bitok.

Kenya expects to more than double its tourism numbers from 2 million visitors to 5 million arrivals every year, thanks to the new system.

The African Development Bank’s 2023 Africa Visa Openness Index, reports that 50 countries have now improved, or maintained, their openness scores.

The increase has been attributed to the rise in country-to-country and, in some instances, multi-country agreements to completely remove or ease visa restrictions.

A concerted effort by African countries to promote the free movement of people across the continent is seen growing in the New Year, to bolster tourism and trade.

“Sustaining the momentum on visa liberalisation is crucial for realising the vision of the ‘Africa We Want.’ Embracing liberal visa policies will not only facilitate seamless travel but also contribute significantly to enhanced trade in goods and services, cross-border investment and shared prosperity,” said African Development Bank Group Vice President, Regional Development, Integration and Business Delivery, Marie-Laure Akin-Olugbade.

According to the report, there have been significant improvements in visa openness all over the continent, including in regional blocs like the Southern Africa Development Co-operation and East African Community which recorded slight reductions in overall scores in 2023.

Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and Angola are among the countries in the bloc that made strides in opening up their borders for travellers.

In October of 2023, Angola expanded its visa-free regime to include several African countries. In March of the same year, Botswana and Namibia agreed to allow citizens from each other’s countries to cross their borders using just a national identity card instead of a passport.

In December, Zimbabwe and Botswana mulled an agreement that could allow their citizens to stay for up to 90 days each year in either country without needing a passport, visa, or work permit.

Apart from Kenya and Rwanda, which have recently eliminated the need for visas, Uganda and DRC have also agreed to abolish visa requirements for each other’s citizens. South Sudan shifted to a visa-on-arrival regime for the citizens of Burundi and Rwanda. All of which offer greater integration within the East Africa Community region.

A growing openness to African travellers is reflected in the already rising number of Africans that visited neighbouring countries in 2023, according to official government data from Kenya, South Africa and Tanzania.

A survey by Kenya’s Tourism Research Institute shows African nationals visiting Kenya in 2023 picking up a share of 42,19 percent in 2023, compared to 34,47 percent for European, 11 percent for North America and 9 percent for Asian nationals, respectively.

According to the Tourist Exit Survey Report 2023, the primary reason (39,4 percent) for visiting the destination was identified as leisure, holidays, and recreational activities, with only 27,2 percent, choosing business-related activities and 20,6 percent travelling to visit friends and family.

“The survey also revealed that apart from the primary purpose of travel the respondents also engaged in other activities. Shopping was the other major activity for the respondents on transit and those seeking medical services at 54 percent and 50 percent respectively,” said Tourism Research Institute researchers.

Tanzania’s National Bureau of Statistics 2023 data, showed that the majority of African arrivals came from Kenya with 128 753, followed by Burundi (69 505), Zambia (38 394), Rwanda (37 269) and Uganda (28 594) – between January and August.

During this period, arrivals from Kenya were more than those from the United States of America with 84 541 and France (72 009). Arrivals from Burundi were more than those from Germany (57 798), the United Kingdom (51 505) or Italy (51 056).

A similar trend was witnessed in South Africa with data from Statistics South Africa showing that tourists from the rest of Africa constituted a significant 75,8 percent of all arrivals, equating to 3,6 million tourists during the January to July 2023 period, despite the negative attitudes towards other African nationals, a mentality referred to locally as xenophobia.

Within the African region, Zimbabwe and Kenya stood out for their remarkable growth. Zimbabwe saw an exceptional 115,6 percent increase in tourist arrivals, totalling 1,2 million, while Kenya recorded a 110,2 percent surge during the period under review, compared to 2022.

Demand for leisure travel in Africa will remain robust in 2024, according to yet another report.

The WTM Global Travel Report shows that nine out of Africa’s 10 largest domestic leisure travel markets are likely to enjoy greater amounts of domestic travel spend in 2024 compared to 2019.

“The outlook for leisure travel demand in 2024 remains robust. In the post-pandemic era, travel demand has persistently defied the macroeconomic backdrop upon which it typically relies,” the report adds.

Egypt will retain its position as the largest destination for inbound luxury travel receipts, with inbound leisure spending expected to return US$12,2 billion to the economy, according to WTM.

Mauritius is anticipated to jump up the rankings table, from seventh in 2019 to the sixth-largest inbound market in Africa in 2024.

Ethiopia is expected to enter the top 10 as the eighth largest destination for domestic travel spend in 2024, up from 12th in 2019. It will likely push Angola from eighth in 2019 to 10th in 2024, and Tunisia from 10th in 2019 to 11th in 2024.

“Consumers have exhibited a propensity to prioritise spending on travel above other categories of discretionary spend since travel resumed. With significant excess savings still available to some households there is demand still to be realised,” the WTM report says.

Other top luxury destinations in Africa are South Africa and Kenya. Nigeria is the only market where domestic demand is expected to remain below 2019 levels in 2024. – Bird Agency.

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