Angola rising: tourism is next

I spent last week in Portugal‘s Azores, absorbing the rhythms of daily life on Flores, Europe’s westernmost island. An unexpected discovery was the ongoing focus on Angola in the Portuguese media. Evidence of the rise of Angola as an economic power is everywhere.

First off, Portuguese people are moving to the former Portuguese colony in droves. Back in 2010 there was an interesting article by François Musseau in the French newspaper Libération about Angola’s magnetic appeal to skilled Portuguese workers. Musseau’s article points out that skilled Portuguese workers can make three times as much money in Angola than in Portugal. While life in Angola might not always be easy, Musseau suggests, the payoff in terms of salary and career development is high. More recently, a BBC article from this past December also documents the Portuguese exodus to Angola.

The flow of workers doesn’t appear to be leveling off. The current issue of newsweekly Visão features an article on superior economic environments for skilled workers hoping to escape Portugal’s economic crisis. Angola is one of a handful of countries listed – and the only one of the bunch in Africa – next to rich countries like Germany, Switzerland, the UK, and the US.

“The future starts here,” says the billboard of an Angolan bank, Banco BAI, at a prime spot at Lisbon’s international airport. This statement appears to be true for Angola in many ways. A number of different stories over the last few months have observed that Angolan investors are busy buying up Portugal’s businesses and newly privatized state assets in a postcolonial reversal.This is all particularly remarkable given Angola’s recent history. The country suffered through a truly horrific civil war from 1975 until 2002. Ten years ago Angola was just emerging from the rubble. This article on Angola in 2002 describes an extremely impoverished, shellshocked country limping to normalcy.

While most Angolans remain very poor today, oil and diamonds have generated incredible wealth. A domestic middle class is finding its feet. Tourism will surely follow the emergence of a consumer class. And, in point of fact, Angola’s tourism boom has already begun. To give one example, the current issue of Angolan business magazine Rumo reports that over 300 new hotel rooms will open in March in the northwestern province of Uíge.

More decisive evidence can be glimpsed in the March issue of Up, TAP Portugal’s in-flight magazine. The issue is devoted to Angola with a collection of features spanning two dozen pages. There is an exciting hotel primer, which includes an architectural classic in Lobito’s Hotel Terminus as well as the very slick Epic Sana in Luanda.

At the heart of the themed issue is a dossier titled “10 Angola Basics.” Within, beautiful images are paired with scores of exciting destinations: the city of Benguela; the beaches of Restinga, Ilha do Mussulo, and Lobito; national parks in Bengo, Cunene, and Malange; and the rainforests of Cabinda. Aesthetically very striking, the dossier of articles serves as an irresistible catalog of a country in dramatic flux. With a growing middle class and an increasing number of vacation-ready foreign workers living in the country, it is clear that that Angola’s tourism potential has just barely been tapped.