While the region has improved since the 2017 edition of the report, Sub-Saharan Africa ranks at the bottom of the TTCI, lagging behind the rest of the world across all pillars, with only Mauritius, South Africa and Seychelles scoring above the global average on the index. At the same time, however, the region continues to outpace the global average in international tourism arrivals and receipts growth: the World Travel and Tourism Council forecasts Africa economies covered by this year’s TTCI to have the second highest rate of growth in T&T GDP in the ten years from 2019–2029. As a result, if the region manages to pick up the pace of improvement, investors will be more likely view the region as an attractive investment opportunity to diversify away from more mature markets.
Sub-Saharan Africa’s travel and tourism market is very small. In 2018, the T&T industry’s GDP of African countries covered in this report totalled approximately $42.1 billion, with 37.4 million tourist arrivals in 2017, about 1.6% and 3.0% of the global total, respectively.* In general, with the majority of the region’s economies classified as low or lower-middle income, Sub-Saharan Africa lacks the robust middle class and economic resources required to generate intra-regional travel and tourism investment at the same scale as other parts of the world, although both aspects are demonstrating steady growth. In particular, the current lack of investment means that the region has the least-developed infrastructure in the world, clogging up the vital arteries of travel and tourism. The region’s air transport infrastructure—defined by a weak domestic airline industry and a lack of airport density—greatly undermines local economies’ ability to facilitate tourist and business travel, which are already hampered by the vast size and geographic barriers of Africa. Below-average international openness contributes to this issue.
In addition, there is a pronounced lack of ICT adoption, a vital requirement to attract visitors when travellers and industry players increasingly rely on technology. Visitors might also be put off by health and hygiene concerns, which is Sub-Saharan Africa’s most substantial gap with global averages. The combination of all these barriers may explain the region’s poor competitiveness performance on TTCI indicators related to natural and cultural resources, despite the widely acknowledged attractiveness of its nature.
On the one hand, many Sub-Saharan African economies have made great strides to improve their competitiveness. That’s why growth in price competitiveness combined with improvements in other areas can attract more price-conscious visitors. Aside from price, the region’s performance on other components of the T&T Policy and Enabling Conditions subindex also experienced improvements over 2017. The combination of the world’s fastest regional growth on ICT readiness and international openness has also helped drive digital connectivity and improvements in air traffic. On the other hand, however, performance has declined when it comes to business environment, health and hygiene, human resource and labour market, tourist service infrastructure and natural and cultural resources. This has endangered progress made elsewhere. In the end, the region’s performance varied greatly by subregion and country.
Southern Africa is the most competitive of the three subregions, but experienced slow growth in competitiveness over the past two years. In 2019, it outperforms the broader regional average on 11 pillars. The subregion is also the most price-competitive in Sub-Saharan Africa, which is also its highest-ranking pillar. However, Southern Africa’s biggest advantages over the other two subregions come from tourist services infrastructure and prioritization of travel & tourism, though the subregion does perform below the global average in both areas. Southern Africa’s growth over its 2017 performance consisted of broad improvement in T&T-related policies and enabling conditions, especially price competitiveness and international openness. ICT readiness and tourist service infrastructure also improved, but this subregion’s traditional lead in overall enabling environment and natural and cultural resources deteriorated. In particular, Southern Africa’s Health and Hygiene pillar worsened, reinforcing the subregion’s greatest disadvantage compared to the global average.
Southern Africa’s growth is primarily due to the performance of Lesotho, which moved up four places in 2019 to a global rank of 124th. The country experienced jumps in price competitiveness (57th to 10th) and international openness (129th to 107th), caused by the lowest ticket and airport charges in the world as well as reduced visa requirements (110th to 28th). Three of the five other countries in Southern Africa that were ranked in 2017 lost places on the TTCI. Botswana experienced the subregion’s largest decline, dropping seven places to rank 92nd globally due to a worsened enabling environment (83rd to 99th), infrastructure (89th to 99rd) and natural and cultural resources (70th to 67th). The lowest ranking member of Southern Africa is Angola (134th), ranking near the bottom on most pillars. However, South Africa (61st) currently accounts for approximately 70% of Southern Africa’s T&T GDP and is the subregion’s highest scorer on the TTCI, with a particularly strong lead over the countries in the rest of the region in areas related to cultural resources & business travel (23rd).
Eastern Africa is a close second to Southern Africa in terms of competitiveness but did experience stagnation since the last edition of the report. Overall, Eastern Africa tops the broader Sub-Saharan Africa average on nine pillars, ties on three, and is the top-ranked subregion on seven. Compared to the Sub-Saharan Africa average, it maintains a minor disadvantage regarding price competitiveness, which is still its highest-scoring pillar, and a larger gap on ICT readiness. Eastern Africa’s most significant advantages over Southern and Western Africa comes from better ground and port infrastructure. However, it is on natural resources where the subregion outperforms the global average. Eastern Africa lost competitiveness on seven pillars. The biggest declines came from cultural resources and business travel, health and hygiene and tourist service infrastructure. However, these losses were offset by strong growth on price competitiveness and enhancements to air and ground infrastructure.
Of the 10 economies ranked in 2017, five decreased in competitiveness and all but one dropped in ranking. For example, Rwanda (107th) experienced the biggest decline, dropping 10 places, due mainly to worsening health conditions (112th to 129th) that were caused primarily by a spike in malaria (118th to 140th). Burundi (137th) is the lowest-ranked economy in Eastern Africa but had the highest percentage increase in competitiveness. Globally, it ranks last in terms of tourist service infrastructure and, in value terms, lags behind the Eastern Africa average in terms of T&T prioritization (134th). Burundi’s increased competitiveness came from improved T&T enabling conditions and, in particular, price competitiveness, where it moved up seven places to 75th. The highest-scoring country in the subregion is Mauritius (54th), which is also the highest scorer in the entire Sub-Saharan Africa region. The country is Sub-Saharan Africa’s top scorer when it comes to T&T prioritization—where it ranks 5th globally—due to government focus on the industry including relatively high government expenditure (4th) in the sector. Regarding T&T GDP size, Eastern Africa is dominated by Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania, with Ethiopia (122nd) the largest of the three. The country has the subregion’s largest population but lags behind Eastern Africa’s average on the majority of the 14 TTCI pillars. Most notably, Ethiopia has an underdeveloped overall T&T infrastructure (128th).
Western Africa enjoyed the greatest increase in competitiveness in the region, yet it also ranks the lowest on the global TTCI. The subregion lags behind Southern and Eastern Africa in all areas apart from environmental sustainability, where it has a slight edge, and ICT readiness, where it ranks higher than Eastern Africa. Like the other African subregions, Western Africa scores highest on price competitiveness and lowest on cultural and business travel. Its greatest disadvantages, relative to the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa, come from lower prioritization of T&T, tourist services infrastructure and natural resources. Western Africa’s competitiveness improvements from 2017 to 2019 are concentrated in nine pillars, with the most considerable improvement coming from increased international openness and ICT readiness. Moreover, Western Africa was the only subregion to show an overall improvement on the Health and Hygiene pillar. However, subregional economies experienced further decreased competitiveness on natural and cultural resources and tourist service infrastructure.
Eight of the 12 economies in the subregion covered in both the previous and current edition of the TTCI improved their competitiveness. Yet only four of them rose in the rankings, demonstrating that there is still a long way to go for the area to become genuinely competitive. Nigeria (129th) accounts for nearly half of the subregion’s T&T GDP and is also its largest economy. However, it ranks in the middle of the pack regarding competitiveness and has the worst safety and security ranking (139th) in the entire Sub-Saharan Africa region. With a global rank of 88th, Cape Verde is Western Africa’s highest-ranking member on the global index and 6th-highest in the Sub-Saharan Africa region. The country is more competitive than its sub-regional counterparts in all areas except the cultural (128th) and natural (136th) resources indicators. Benin experienced the largest growth in the subregion, moving up four spots to 123rd. The country drastically reduced its visa requirements, where it has risen to 7th globally. Côte d’Ivoire had the sharpest decline, dropping ten spots on the index to 119th, due primarily to deteriorating road and port infrastructure (67th to 98th). Chad (139th) ranks the lowest in the subregion due in part to the worst enabling conditions in the world and second to last performance in infrastructure.
Selected Country/Economy Analysis
Mauritius is Sub-Saharan Africa’s highest-scoring member, moving up one spot in the global rankings to 54th. The country is one of the region’s most developed and scores above regional and global averages in all aspects of the Enabling Environment subindex. It boasts a good business environment (17th)—defined by a low impact of taxes on business (8th) and profit (18th)—and an effective legal and administrative system. All of which encourages investment in its T&T industry, which already benefits from high government prioritization (6th) and spending (4th) and effective tourism marketing (13th). Travel to Mauritius is also made easy by minimal visa requirements (5th), high-quality tourism infrastructure (3rd) and fairly good ground and port infrastructure (24th). Moreover, the country far outscores the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa on the Health and Hygiene pillar (58th) due to the number of physicians (62nd), hospital facilities, and water and sanitation services (50th) that are available to the population.
However, despite ranking high for the attractiveness of its natural assets (9th), including beaches, reefs and mountain rainforests, Mauritius still scores low on the Natural Resources pillar (106th). The country needs to reverse its recent decline in this area by expanding the amount of protected area (140th, revised down from 2017 figures) and protecting the large number of threatened wildlife (138th) that live in the country or it may risk losing its competitive edge. In addition, the country needs to keep improving its unfavorable price competitiveness (123rd) to enhance its attractiveness to potential visitors.
South Africa has, by far, the largest T&T industry in Sub-Saharan Africa ranking second regionally and 61st globally on the index. The country’s most significant advantage is its combination of natural (15th) and cultural resources (23rd). While not optimal, the country also boasts a decent business environment (57th) and beats regional benchmarks regarding human resources and labour (81st), ICT readiness (75th) and overall infrastructure (60th). Nevertheless, the country still fell eight places on the index since 2017. South Africa has several critical issues undermining its overall competitiveness. It has one of the worst safety and security environments (132nd) in the world, and is plagued by high homicide rates (135th), a significant impact of crime on business (131st) and increasing fears of terrorism. Combined with poor health and hygiene conditions (113th), the security situation diminishes South Africa’s attractiveness for visitors and investors alike. In addition, the country still scores low on the Environmental Sustainability pillar (124th), which is characterized by significant deforestation (124th) and declining environmental enforcement and regulatory stringency (46th to 66th), posing a risk to South Africa’s natural resource advantage.
The country also experienced declines in the attractiveness of its natural assets (6th to 32nd). However, an increased number of world heritage sites (16th to 13th) and an upward revision for protected land (100th to 74th), helps offset this. The real fall in the nation’s TTCI ranking is largely due to a worsening business environment, where the nation dropped 36 places because of a deterioration in performance on legal system and market competition (30th to 54th) and the impact of taxes on incentives to work and invest (48th to 78th). Government prioritization of tourism has also slipped, from 40th to 75th, with an apparent reduction on both marketing effectiveness (40th to 60th) and overall country brand strategy (5th to 23rd). Combined with declining quality of tourist service infrastructure (6th to 32nd), South Africa is in danger of further erosion of its advantages. The nation’s traditional lead on human resources also narrowed, with refined education data showing a lower level of primary education enrollment and broad drops in training and customer orientation metrics. If the country can maintain its lead on natural and cultural resources and infrastructure, and reverse recent losses in areas related to enabling environment—particularly indicators on safety—it will be able to remain one of Sub-Saharan Africa’s key tourism economies.
Lesotho had the most impressive regional growth, jumping four places. However, the rise came off a low starting point, and the country still ranks 124th. Given that T&T directly accounts for over 7% of the country’s GDP—a large share relative to the rest of the world—it is not surprising that much of the growth in Lesotho’s competitiveness came from improved T&T prioritization and enabling conditions (93rd to 41st), in which it now outcompetes the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa. The government is certainly prioritizing the travel and tourism industry (1st), with reduced visa requirements (110th to 28th) and drastic cuts in ticket taxes and airport charges (105th to 1st). Combined with improvements on already good environmental sustainability (22nd to 20th), Lesotho’s gains in T&T prioritization (60th to 41st), international openness (129th to 107th) and new-found price competitiveness (57th to 10th), are positioning the country to further attract tourists and investment. In particular, the country has increasingly attractive natural assets (72nd to 47th).
Nevertheless, the country still needs to make many changes and refinements to its recent progress in order to become a truly competitive T&T hub. Nature-related tourism could be encouraged even further by expanding protected areas (136th) and boosting digital marketing (124th). Landlocked and surrounded by South Africa, the country’s T&T industry is overwhelmingly dependent on South African tourists and external transport routes via its neighbor. Lesotho could increase the number of air service agreements (139th) and encourage better air transport infrastructure (139th), which would improve connectivity. The country depends on ground transport for most incoming travel and should make further investments as it ranks near the bottom of the TTCI on ground transport infrastructure (139th). Lesotho should also seek to boost outside investment by improving its business environment (106th)—which benefits from the 6th lowest corporate tax rate in the ranking—by cutting red tape and investing in human resources. The country’s poor health and hygiene situation (the country suffers from the second-highest HIV prevalence rate), homicide rate (136th) and ICT readiness (120th) also need to be addressed in order to attract a greater and more diversified range of visitors.