“Obama Effect” helps African tourism

Last year was a bad year for travel in most places, but a continent that has generally been overlooked by the majority of travelers is seeing boom times–Africa.

Africa is the only continent to see a rise in tourism last year, up 5 percent when most other places felt the pinch. The UN World Tourism Organization revealed the figures this week and said Africa had “bucked the trend” of the worldwide travel recession. Part of the boom is attributed to the “Obama Effect”, a new curiosity about Africa thanks to the U.S. having its first African-American president. Obama, seen here playing basketball in the African nation of Djibouti, has family in Kenya. The tourist board there says visitors are flocking in to learn more about where the president is from.

The other big factor is the World Cup, due to take place in South Africa this year. Not only will that bring a huge number of visitors to South Africa, but it helps put the entire continent on the map.

Not all countries are doing well. The Gambia has been hit hard, with the usual crowd of beach-loving Europeans tanning closer to home. Meanwhile, Chad and Niger are struggling to expand their tiny tourism industries by protecting and promoting their wildlife. The overall picture, however, looks rosy.

Will this be the decade Africa comes into its own as a tourist destination? There’s no shortage of natural wonders, ancient civilizations, and interesting cultures to explore. Our very own Stephen Greenwood is having an incredible time in Madagascar right now, a friend of mine is crossing the entire continent on a motorcycle, and later next month I’ll be sending dispatches from Ethiopia.

Have you been in Africa? Tell us about it in the comments section!