African tourism looks set for take-off, and technology has a major role to play in this process.

Marthinus van Schalkwyk, minister of Environmental Affairs & Tourism, speaking at the opening of the Routes Africa conference, points out that technology is creating leapfrogging opportunities in the travel and tourism sector.

“The number of mobile-phone subscribers has increased sevenfold to a conservatively estimated 520-million over the last decade, thereby bringing tourist destinations and travel arrangements within reach of millions of previously disconnected would-be travellers,” he says. “In short, the African lions are on the move.”

Passenger numbers in Africa are expected to increase from 68-million in 2010 to 150-million in 2030. This would translate into a 5% per year growth rate for aviation’s direct contribution to gross domestic product on the continent.

“But, for us to wake the sleeping giant, many barriers still need to be overcome. The first is visa barriers. Many of us understand that the bureaucracy and costs involved in applying for and issuing visas are a major impediment to foreigners wishing to visit our shores, and to our own people to travel on our continent.

“As Africans, we have an opportunity here to leapfrog by doing two things right. In an era of globalisation, technology offers many opportunities to enhance security, while facilitating travel and tourism.

“By introducing e-visas, we will not only grow tourism volumes, but we will also create many new job opportunities. Furthermore, I believe there are opportunities to accelerate the creation of regional visa schemes. This would allow our international visitors and intra-African travellers to move more freely and efficiently, to the benefit of our continent.”

Van Schalkwyk explains that continental tourism plays a critical anti-cyclical role during economic downturns.

“The dominance of regional tourism in Africa shielded the continent from the worst impacts of the 2008/9 global economic recession.

“Tourism also has unique potential to grow exponentially from low baselines over short periods in destinations that have not previously reaped its benefits. Furthermore, the tourism sector is a haven for small enterprises and, as a labour-intensive sector with a supply chain that cascades deep into national economies and communities, it is an important vehicle for social inclusion”