Obama’s heritage boosts African tourism

Africa bucked global trends by attracting an increase in tourists last year, attributable in part to the "Obama effect"…

The election of a US president with African heritage is cited by industry experts as helping drive interest in the continent.

Africa was the sole continent to record a rise in the number of international tourist arrivals in 2009, with growth of 5%. This compared with a 4% drop worldwide, blamed on the global recession and swine flu outbreak.

Taleb Rifai, head of the UN World Tourism Organisation, told a trade fair in Madrid: "There has been a shift in the way people look at Africa. Compared to 10 years ago they've come a long, long way. Africa is now considered a very serious destination for travellers from the major generating markets."

The 2008 election of Barack Obama, whose father was an immigrant from Kenya, appears to have led to a boom in so-called "roots tourism" among African Americans.

The World Travel Market Global Trends Report 2009 said Obama's election "has resulted in a surge of popularity for Kenya especially amongst African Americans wishing to visit his ancestral village Kogelo where his grandmother still lives".

It notes that the popularity of DNA testing to identify ancestral origin helped increase travel to Africa. "There are more than 2,000 genealogy companies in the US, with 35,000 DNA tests performed since 2002 by African Americans," it says.

"Many agencies now offer Obama packages such as the President Obama Africa Roots Tour by Africa Travel Waves (Kenya) where visitors visit his ancestral home and learn about the Luo people."

About 450,000 people are expected to travel to South Africa for the World Cup in June, although it has been suggested that football fans will merely replace many who would have otherwise come on holiday.

Danny Jordaan, the chief World Cup organiser, has expressed hopes that it will help push annual international tourists above 10 million a year. Neighbouring countries are also seeking to benefit.

Many African countries are also said to be reaping rewards from growing trade links with China and India which encourage visitors to come from those countries.

But Africa still has a long way to go. Rifai said its share of the global tourist market is 5% – or about 50 million tourists from a total of nearly 900 million travellers.

Source:  www.guardian.co.uk