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Nature based tourism could be a money spinner for Africa

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Nature based tourism creates jobs for local communities as tour guides for example. Image credit: WhyAfrica.

By Leon Louw, founder and editor of WhyAfrica

26 June 2021 – Africa is well known for its wildlife and exceptional natural beauty. Nature-based tourism could be a money spinner for Africa. 

Although some African countries have benefitted from nature-based tourism, the monetary value of protecting a country’s natural heritage has not yet been fully realised. Nature based tourism could be a money spinner for Africa.

It could also potentially be something companies active in other industries like mining, energy and the agricultural space can look at to offset their environmental impacts and improve their Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) standing.

African countries are on the bucket list of most international tourists, whether it is for its beaches, wildlife, forests, deserts, or culture. Tourism has huge potential in Africa and the sector presents a range of investment opportunities. From north to south, and from east to west, Africa offers such diverse landscapes and experiences that it is impossible for any tourist to ignore.

African governments should prioritise nature- based tourism and use the proceeds to fund the protection and conservation of its exceptional national parks.

Local economies to benefit the most    

Not only is tourism a potential money spinner for African governments, but local economies and local communities could benefit immensely from foreign exchange injections. Moreover, tourism’s multiplier effect is significant, the industry is sustainable, and it creates jobs. Unemployment is one of the most pressing problems on the African continent, and a vibrant tourism sector creates exciting opportunities for young people, enabling them to enter the formal job market.

However, there is a fine line between attracting too many tourists to the detriment of the attraction that brought them there in the first place, and not getting enough feet into the protected areas to finance the conservation of national parks, for example.

The World Bank released an interesting report a few weeks ago that addresses that fine balance through examples and by comparing the spin-offs of nature-based tourism in four different developing countries. The report “Banking on Protected Areas: Promoting sustainable nature-based tourism to benefit local communities shows that for every dollar governments invest in protected areas and support for nature-based tourism, the economic rate of return is at least six-times the original investment.

Furthermore, the report found that the original investment triggered a chain of benefits for local businesses and households – even for those not directly connected to the tourism sector.

Tourism part of a Covid-19 recovery

Given these economic benefits, the report argues that the promotion of sustainable tourism in protected areas should be included in Covid-19 economic recovery plans, an investment that creates local jobs, improves incomes, and protects biodiversity.

“Prior to the pandemic, there were more than 8 billion visits a year to marine and terrestrial protected areas around the world, providing a vital source of income for communities who rely on tourism.

As countries emerge from the pandemic and rebuild their tourism sectors, investing in protected areas is a win for conservation and for development,” says Karin Kemper, World Bank Global Director for Environment, Natural Resources and Blue Economy.

When tourists visit protected areas, they pay park entry fees, which provide direct revenues to governments, and they also spend money on hotels, meals, transportation, souvenirs, and other tourism services that stimulate the local economy.

When the sum of these direct and indirect economic benefits is calculated, it provides an estimate of the rate of return on public investment in protected areas and nature-based tourism.

The report looked at four countries – Brazil, Fiji, Nepal and Zambia – and found that the benefits of investing in protected areas far outweigh the costs of that original investment. The rates of return were impressive:

The total impact of protected area tourism

The total impact of protected area tourism on the local economy was found to be in Fiji because of the high amount of tourist spending per day and the large volume of tourists.

The Zambian parks also saw high tourist spending, mostly on guided safaris and hunting, but these parks have relatively few tourists due to a lack of connectivity, which is a challenge, but also a blessing, in most African countries. Ironically, the lack of infrastructure in African countries has contributed to the protection of endangered species and important conservation areas.

According to the World Bank report, Nepal generates large revenues despite low tourist spending, due to high tourist numbers. “While the model generates significant stimuli for the local economy around Nepal’s Chitwan National Park, these comes with trade-offs—if large numbers of tourists degrade the natural area that is attracting them, fewer tourists may visit in the future.” This is exactly the conundrum a host of African countries are grappling with.

Job creation through tourism

Tourism generates jobs directly through tourism activities, and indirectly by stimulating the local economy. Tourism-related jobs could include, amongst others, hotel employees, tour operators, and restaurant workers, as well as those employed as a result of increased demand for goods and services brought on by tourism in sectors such as retail, services, and in some instances agriculture, livestock, and fishing. Beyond the total number of jobs, the share of employment supported by tourism in protected areas is significant.

In Zambia, tourism in protected areas generated jobs for 14% and 30% of working age populations around the Lower Zambezi and South Luangwa Parks respectively.

In Nepal, tourism-related jobs around Chitwan National Park are held by 3% of the working age population, while in Brazil’s coastal region – the Whale coast, a total of 46,800 jobs (300 of these jobs can be attributed to the Abrolhos Marine Park directly) represents 12% percent of the local population.

Tourism in Fiji’s Mamanuca islands created 8,304 jobs (through direct and indirect channels), employing 13% of the local population in Nadroga-Navosa and the Mamanucas.

The potential of tourism to kickstart the economies of developing countries is great. If managed properly, nature based tourism could be a money spinner for Africa.

Leon Louw is the founder and editor of WhyAfrica. He specialises in natural resources and African affairs.        

WhyAfrica provides you with business intelligence that matters. Africa is our business, and we want it to be yours too. To subscribe to WhyAfrica’s free newsletter or digital magazine, and for more news on Africa, visit the website at www.whyafrica.co.za or send a direct message.


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