Tourism in Africa as a driver for economic growth

Tourism in Africa Will Lead to Economic Growth and Development

At Mettle, we are intensely passionate about Africa and always actively brainstrorming and facilitating the various mediums and sectors through which Africa can ‘improve’. One of the areas that can undoubetedly lift many African countries from its slumber is tourism in Africa. There are many layers to having a thriving tourism sector in Africa as this necessitates responsible governance and adequate infrastructure which, in turn, leads to an increase in economic growth, job creation, and security among other growth indicators.

We also believe to a large degree Africa can attain insurmountable growth through active and responsible citizen participation. It’s up to Africans to make this push for improvement, and of course, African leaders must work harder to secure the continent’s future. Nonetheless, the time for African citizens acting as spectators in their lives and future has passed. Africans must now take an active role in their development. And we are continually impressed and inspired by the many African millenials who leave their relatively peaceful lives and Fortune 500 company jobs in the West to return to their countries and make a change. Having recently began to explore tourism in Africa as a catalyst for growth, we sought after Monisola Baruwa, the trailblazing technology-inclined entrepreneur and founder of CountlessMiles working to promote tourism in Africa.

CountlessMiles is a technology-enabled travel startup by Nigerian travel lover, Monisola Baruwa. Known by many simply as Moni, she believes in travel loving, risk-seeking global citizens who believe in the power of travel for personal and economic development. CountlessMiles aim to change the typical African’s opinion of travel from shopping trips to immersive life-changing experiences. CountlessMiles does this by curating destination experiences to match customers’ travel needs and budget using their technology tool, and also organize travel impact initiatives that will showcase various destinations globally, making it easier for the African traveler to engage in immersive travel. CountlessMiles’ goal is to become the best technology-enabled travel company in Africa. Currently, it provides free inspiring travel content and experiences from fellow African travelers to motivate others to follow in their footsteps. It also offers a personalized service for individual, university and corporate customers seeking personalized vacation experiences and itineraries. In addition, CountlessMiles works to promote travel by Africans, not only outside the continent as Africans are accustomed, but also tourism in Africa by Africans.

Read our insightful interview below with Moni speaking the truth to power and sharing wisdom.

What would you say is the current level of intra-African tourism?

On a scale of 1-10, intra-Africa tourism has increased roughly from 2 to 4. Although intra-Africa tourism is still low, it has increased in recent years. Because of the prevalent use of social media, there has been an increased focus on travel to Africa from the diaspora, thus also promoting tourism in Africa for the African traveler. However, there are still some limitations to achieving easy travel within the continent such as exorbitant ticket prices and stringent border restrictions.

What do you think discourages intra-African tourism?

As already mentioned, the exorbitant ticket prices and stringent border restrictions discourage travel within the continent. For example, it is more expensive to travel to Senegal or the Gambia from Nigeria than it is to go to Dubai or New York. This is because we do not have low-cost carriers/airlines that service major hubs in Africa, which can also be largely linked to the fact that most African countries have yet to tap into tourism as a huge area for economic growth. Visa requirements for West Africans traveling to East or Southern Africa for instance, is another factor that could significantly impede intra-Africa travel.

What can you tell us about intra-country tourism?

Tourism in Africa has also increased in the past few years. In Nigeria for example, with a lot of young people moving back home and increased social media buzz; a lot of local tourism companies promoting travel within the country have emerged. They organize group trips to various destinations within Nigeria. Nigeria is a beautiful country with great tourism potential but we still have a long way to go to be able to compete with countries like South Africa. I want to see a Nigeria where one can plan a solo trip across Nigeria without having to know someone who lives in Nigeria.

How can tourism facilitate development and economic growth?

Jonah Lehrer best describes the impact of tourism in one of my favorite quotes: “We travel because we need to, because distance and difference are the secret tonic to creativity. When we get home, home is still the same, but something in our minds has changed, and that changes everything.”

I believe that travel can be a tool to change the social and economic landscape of Nigeria and that by exposing our citizens to other cultures through travel, we can foster both individual and economic development. For example, the major issues Nigerian travelers experience is the significant visa restrictions and unfair visa requirements/processes at consulates represented in Nigeria. This makes it more difficult for avid and new travelers to expand their horizons by exploring new territories. The current tourism policy of The Federal Government of Nigeria is to develop sustainable tourism by capitalizing on heritage diversity as the basis for promoting domestic and international tourism within Nigeria. While this is good, it has neglected to consider one factor: the “ripple effect” of global travel by Nigerian citizens – one clear effect of increased focus on encouraging Nigerians to travel internationally, both within Africa and outside Africa, is that they become real-life ambassadors of our heritage and culture, thus encouraging travel to Nigeria. This is far more powerful than anything a potential tourist to Nigeria would see on the Internet. Experiential or immersive travel, as it is popularly known, can help to grow tourism relationships with other countries and also positively change the world’s perception of the typical African from what is portrayed in the media. As we develop better tourism relationships with other countries and develop policies that facilitate easier access for Nigerians to visit other countries, in turn these countries will be more willing to visit Nigeria and implement less stringent travel restrictions. I believe that if this change is enacted, we will achieve social development, cultural education through travel, and economic growth.

What can the (local) government do to promote tourism?How does the current infrastructure (road, air, sea ports) or lack thereof affect tourism?

From my experience traveling, one of the main issues with tourism in Nigeria is our inadequate infrastructure. We would need an infrastructure overhaul to enable us efficiently promote tourism with the country. On my recent trip to Belize, the country reminded so much of the Eastern part of Nigeria but with one major difference – the road network was great, electricity was constant, and transportation was good, thus making it easy to navigate from the North to the Southern part of the country. For a country like Nigeria, besides developing proper road networks, alternative methods of transportation would be a great addition – for example, efficient train and bus options from the Southwest to the Northern region would provide alternative means of travelling within Nigeria and of course more attractive to tourists visiting Nigeria.

What can local communities and governments do to attract tourists? What is your perception of safety when considering travelling within your country and across other African countries?

Apart from the hassle of traveling within Nigeria associated with inadequate infrastructure, another major issue with travel within Nigeria is safety. On a solo trip to the Northern part of Nigeria, I was taking pictures of the landscape area of Aso Rock when 5 random men ambushed me and began questioning why I was taking pictures. In that moment, I didn’t feel safe and I wondered how we would truly promote travel within Nigeria with safety as a major issue. Furthermore, unnecessarily strict/corrupt cross-border immigration officials and bad road networks especially within West Africa, make it difficult to promote road trips as an alternate low-cost option to travel within Africa. Local governments should include tourism initiatives as part of their political agenda and promote local tourism initiatives such as developing and maintaining historical sites, restaurants, and outdoor areas, among others.

What level of investment is needed to increase tourism in Nigeria?

Besides the obvious infrastructure overhaul, Nigeria needs to take tourism conversations as serious as Oil and Gas investments. The economy can benefit socially and financially from tourism. A lot of states within Nigeria can invest in tourism on a state level by promoting local tourism initiatives. For starters, our international and domestic airports – which potentially form a tourist’s first impression of the country or city – require significant investments to bring them on par with those in some of our peer African countries.

It is my experience that maintenance is a problem across many African countries. Let’s take Nigeria for example. On trip advisor, the number one place to visit is the Lekki Arts Market. However, the road to get to it is an eyesore, especially in the rainy season. The drainage system is non-existent. The same goes for many other tourist locations – i.e. Obudu Cattle Ranch or the Lekki Conservation Center. Which stakeholders can we hold responsible for maintenance? What part of our mentality needs to change?

The obvious stakeholder is the government. In most countries, such as South Africa, UK, Dubai, Croatia, with tourism as their top economy driver, the government invests heavily in cultivating an environment that promotes tourism both intra-country and intra-Africa. However, if we continue to wait for the government to make changes that affect us, then things may never change. This requires private companies and citizens to step up and make the change they want to see. From the private vendors who own stores at the Lekki Market coming together to fix their roads, to the everyday citizens making a decision not to litter and clog up the drainage system or deface our historical sites. Everyone has a part to play in maintaining our cities and countries.

What is your company, Countless Miles doing to promote both intra-country and intra-continent tourism in Africa?

At CountlessMiles our focus is on building a community of African travelers defying the odds in global travels. Our definition of global travels includes travel both within and outside the African continent. We focus more on the immersive destination experiences that African travelers can partake in and not necessarily the geographical location. Every location and country is a potential tourism destination. That being said, with our “Travel + Inspire” social impact initiatives we promote travels intra-country, intra-Africa and inter-continent. For example, at our Travel and Art exhibition in Nigeria last year, which was themed, “This is Not Lagos”, we showcased 26 beautiful artworks from 6 prolific Nigerian photographers, displaying various destinations in Nigeria outside of Lagos, telling stories and inspiring travel through art.

What limitations do you face in your quest?

As a startup business, our major limitation is funds and core team to implement the various business strategies and initiatives.

What is the tourism market like in Africa? How is Countless Miles different from the competition?

In recent times, there has been a growing number of companies in Nigeria and Africa that promote tourism in Africa either via online ticketing platforms, packaged destination deals, or group travel experiences.

At CountlessMiles we leverage our expertise in travel, our network, and technology tools to creatively combine experiential travel [providing inspiring content and building a community of experiential travelers] and trip planning services focusing on travel needs, budget, collaboration and community, while simultaneously promoting tourism in Africa.

What are some of your near future goals and how do you plan to achieve them?

Our main goal right now among others is to complete development of our technology platform, which will allow our travelers/customers to easily and seamlessly take the reins of their own travel and curate their personalized immersion experiences and itineraries in real-time, whenever and wherever. We are also applying to various entrepreneurial programs that will provide us an opportunity to raise funds to develop our platform.

What experiences have helped you develop the desired skills to excel?

My experience as a Technology consultant and my background in Information Technology has helped me develop the skills required in strategy, business development, and technology. The traveling nature of the job fueled my passion for travel and exposed me to the world beyond my comfort zone, where I learned to engage in immersive experiences at various destinations, learn new cultures and connect with locals.

What resources (government or otherwise) are available that will better ensure growth and success of the tourism sector in Nigeria? And in Africa?

I am currently not aware of any resources available.

In your honest opinion, is Nigeria and Africa as a whole tourism ready?

Tourism in Africa is a segment that needs development across countries. Citizens and government alike need to prioritize this sector and the willing to invest today for future albeit long-term gains. With regards to Nigeria, to be honest, I don’t believe it is ready for tourism at this time. We may be infatuated with the idea of the economic benefits of tourism but in reality we are not ready. The issue with Nigeria is that we are always looking at opportunities that generate money today. The financial gains of tourism are long term because it involves a lot of investment in infrastructure and resources with a return of investment that is not immediate. Until we can move from the short-term mentality, I doubt we will ever be ready. Additionally, to develop a tourism-ready country or continent, we need to make it conducive for the citizens living in that country. If I don’t feel comfortable and safe in my own country, how would a tourist feel the same?

What type of travel packages do you offer?

Our business model is not focused on travel packages. We focus more on curating a personalized experience for our identified customer segments. Below are the different services we offer our different customer types:

Standard Personalized: This is our general service offering, which includes the individual traveler(s) (new and/or avid) crafting a personalized itinerary with authentic destination experiences that meet their travel needs and best fits their budget using our technology tool.

Exclusive Personalized Experience: This service offers a more robust and bespoke service experience. The individual traveler identified here is typically a High Net-worth Individual (HNI) or a luxury traveler. In addition to receiving all the benefits of the standard personalized, a travel concierge is included to assist throughout the planning process and during your trip.

Corporate and School Experiences: This service also offers a concierge service to assist corporates and educational institutions plan their team bonding destination retreats. Our dedicated travel expert is assigned to curate unique experiences tailored for each organization’s event theme, travel needs, budget and organization values.

What areas would you recommend tourists to visit in Nigeria and across Africa?

Nigeria is a beautiful country and has various destinations that I believe are worth exploring. We documented a few of our top destinations in Nigeria here during our Travel and Art Exhibition.

As tourism in Africa continues to grow, there are so many destinations we would recommend to explore. Some of our favorites include The Gambia, Cote D’Ivoire, Angola, Uganda, Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania, Namibia, Botswana, Rwanda, South Africa, and Morocco.

Interviewed by Chisom Udeze