Tourism can help Africa tackle its jobs crisis

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Africa, and the developing world in general, is seized with finding sustainable solutions to the current challenges facing young people and the labour market of the future. The possibility of a digital economy, while real, presents a host of uncertainties that must necessarily be grappled with.

Coming against the background of increasing unemployment and a restless youth population, the challenges loom large. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) earlier this year announced that the youth unemployment rate across Africa is expected to exceed 30% this year, and young people will continue to be 3.5 times more likely than adults to be unemployed.

Ticking time bomb

The impact of what is described as a ticking time bomb cannot be ignored when according to a January 2019 Brookings Institute paper entitled Harnessing Africa’s Youth Dividend: a new approach for large scale job creation, Africa can expect its working class population to reach approximately 450 million people—growing by about 3% per annum—between 2015 and 2035. According to the report, by 2050, Africa will have 362 million young people between the ages of 15 and 24 years old.

How will we ensure jobs for new entrants to the labour market amidst dismal employment statistics throughout the continent? Coming amid what is now referred to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, it is said that education and skills development will the panacea for joblessness and unemployment.

Is it possible, however, that while we prepare young people for the world of work of the future, there are traditional sectors and industries that remain under-exploited? 

The same Brookings Institute report also finds that “other non-traditional sectors such as tourism, agri-businesses, and some services based in information and communications technology show potential for large-scale job creation.” These sectors are among the most dynamic on the continent, with Africa’s services exports growing more than six times faster than merchandise exports between 1998 and 2015. 

The role of tourism

Giving expression to this view is a December 2018 publication by Brookings Institute which calculated that the tourism industry is playing an increasingly important role in the global economy, contributing 5% of gross domestic product (GDP), 30% of service exports, and 235 million jobs. With approximately a billion people travelling internationally each year, consumer spending by 2030 is projected to reach about US$261.77bn, US$137.87bn more than in 2015, according to the report.

With rising levels of development and an upwardly mobile middle class, is also expected that intra-African travel will increase dramatically.

There is concurrence that the tourism sector remains one that can drive economic growth. The World Bank describes tourism [as] a “powerful vehicle for economic growth and job creation all over the world”, mainly due to its “flow-through” or catalytic effect across the economy in terms of production and employment creation.

Simply put, this means that the sector is able to create jobs at all stages of development. In addition to the construction phase, if the country is sufficiently developed, the investment can generate demand locally for furniture and furnishings, and even for capital equipment.

The sector can also generate a demand for secondary services: among others, transport, telecommunications, financial services and local goods.

Under-utilised

Yet, despite the vast potential on the continent in terms of its tourism offering to citizens in Africa and globally as well as how it can contribute to development objectives, the sector contributes only 3% of sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP and, with the exception of a few countries, is still in its infancy in Africa.

The desired objective for growth and development in Africa includes social cohesion among our citizens and the free movement of goods, services and people to facilitate trade and economic growth.  The signing of the continent’s Free Trade Agreement is an opportunity that must not be missed since the free movement of people for business and leisure will be an enabler that will also create the impetus to move goods and services throughout Africa.

Although in its infancy, the tourism sector may be best placed to share lessons and best practice in moving people, services and goods throughout the continent. It works best in the absence of visa constraints; joint marketing including packaging and promotion of cross-border attractions; promotion of joint projects for infrastructure development and investment, including cross-border investment in hotels, airport and roads; and capacity building for people in the sector.

This is the sort of approach and thinking that will get Africa working in a cohesive way and will enable complementary, and sometimes, diverse sectors to leverage competitive strengths for win-win solutions.  Importantly, these win-win solutions will ultimately impact on the citizens of the continent and communities in the form of jobs, development, growth and sustainability. 

Kwakye Donkor is the CEO of African Tourism Partners, which together with the KwaZulu-Natal Government, will bring together representatives of the sector from across the continent at the 2ndAnnual African Tourism Leadership Forum from 27-29 July 2019 at the Durban International Convention Centre.

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