Tourism and the role of the African Diaspora in the growth of Tourism in Africa, by Ikechi Uko

Ikechi Uko, publisher, ATQ magazine and organiser, Akwaaba Travel market, Nigeria

Ikechi Uko, publisher, ATQ magazine and organiser, Akwaaba Travel market, Nigeria

Being a paper presented by Ikechi Uko at the just concluded workshop on African Union citizens and Diaspora organisation held in Cairo recently


Greetings to All of you Africans here

Before I proceed I will want to ask a simple question.

1.  Who is an African?

When we can answer that question I will ask my other questions.

2.  Who is a diaspora African?

3.  Where do they live?

4.  How many are they?

5.  What do they have in Common?

I don’t know who has the correct answers to my questions but I will go ahead with some answers based on what I have read in different media.

It is believed wrongly or rightly that there are over 1 billion Africans in about 54 nations and about 200 million people of African origin scattered all over the world in the Pacific, Asia, Europe, Caribbeans and South America.

The most important question I have always asked is what do we all have in common? Some have said it’s the Melanin Family but there are Africans without Melanin.

Do we eat the same thing? Do we wear the same dresses? Do we speak the same language? Do we all have the same religion? Do we all have the same aspiration? Can we find something that connects us as a family?

After much brain wracking I found out something we all have in common. It’s the Continent of Africa. We all one way or another believe our ancestors are Africans. Everyone in the world originally came from Africa but african Diaspora are those that believe that there recent family is from Africa.

I am here to talk about Tourism and the role of the African Diaspora in the growth of Tourism in Africa.


Africa today gets less than 60 million Tourists and this is less than France which is just one country in Europe. Most of the non-African Tourists are from Europe, Asia and the Americas. The mindset in Africa is “When you speak to the tourism boards on the African continent, they will tell you that their market is middle aged, retired Europeans, so the industry is built around them,” says Cherae Robinson of Tastemakers Africa a bespoke Travel company in America.

According to the new World bank Report ” The Unexplained Potentials of Trade in Services in Africa ” 55% of all Travellers in Africa are Business and this is traditional Business 15% is for Leisure while 30% is for VFR Visiting friends and Relatives. The report also found out that flight ticket prices are very high compared to other regions of the world. It found out that the quality of hotels has to improve but is impacted by high cost of building quality hotel room as high as $400,000 in Nigeria while a similar room in other regions cost $100,000.


Most of the growth in Tourism in Africa has come from Neighbors and fellow Africans. South Africa Tourism and Kenya Tourism Boards said as much. The growth is from Africa. This new understanding is the fallout of the debilitating effects of Travel Advisories issued against many Tourist Destinations in Africa by Source markets. This realization after the Ebola debacle has emboldened African Tourism Boards to market more within Africa. African travels within Africa will keep growing despite Terrorism threats, Instability and poverty.

Africa is condemned to grow regional Tourism. That is the future of Africa.


Perception of Africa by Africans… Every African I have met in my travels in Africa believes his country is somewhat better than the others. Even Nigerians that will complain about everything Nigerian still believes his country is the best. The international News media especially BBC which is the most listened Radio station in Africa stereotypes every country in the eyes of other Africans  so we believe the other person is a criminal, the other guy is a fanatic, another a rapist. One guy kills albinos and that country is full of HIV/AIDS positive people. A country is full of hungry People and another is Xenophobic. That is the story of Africa told to Africans and believed by Africans. So Africans resist other Africans for no reason other than the fact they come from another country. So African neighbors are all distrusting of one Another. Kenya and Tanzania, Nigeria and Cameroon, Zimbabwe and South Africa, Ghana and Togo, Ethiopia and Eritrea, Morocco and Algeria. This is our reality in Africa.

What you don’t know you will avoid and what you avoid you fear and what you fear you hate. So most Africans make no effort to find out any good thing in Africa.

Today most Air travel by Africans is outside Africa. We believe the grass is greener outside Africa so we prefer to attempt crossing the Mediterranean even it means dying at sea.

The consequence of this mindset is that while our African Airlines are dying Non-African Airline s are growing in Africa. According to AFRAA the Association for African Airlines, they carry about 80% of African air traffic. Meanwhile over 36 African Airlines collapsed in the last 10 years in Africa.

But the good news is that the mindset is now changing as the African Middle class is discovering the Continent. That brings us to the Diaspora.


I have my own Theory which I will share with you today.  It is not scientific. It is just me and my observations.

There are three types of Africans outside Africa.

1.   The African Emigre.. He travelled in the last 50 years and still has Family in Africa. They might be Dual Citizens if they so desire.

2.   The African Native Abroad… These are are the African Americans, The Pacific Africans, The Carribean Africans, Ethnic Africans in India and South America. They are Africans but are also Natives of other places.  They carry the passports of their Native country. These groups have an emotional connection to Africa and believe their immediate ancestors are from Africa.

3.   African Cousins Abroad. For want of a better name I prefer to call them cousins. Though we are related they might not know or have chosen not to know. These are Children African Natives but born or raised in another country. The Jamaican in London is emotionally connected to Jamaica and might not have a connection to Africa. These groups are likely to be the ones that need the most convincing of the three groups.


Some of us in Africa are working to grow the percentage of Africans travelling within Africa we are hoping that if we get just 10% of Africans to travel within Africa then we can exit out of Poverty forever. A study done by Sabre the travel Company says that the introduction of African Passport or visa free travel within Africa will grow GDP by 24%. This is massive.

If we can get about 10% of Africans in Diaspora to visit Africa every year then African can surpass France and other leading Destinations.

Because the Diaspora Africans will probably spend more in Africa the Tourism Receipt from this group will outstrip what we already receive from Europe.


The first group …The African Emigre is the easiest to get to visit not just as friends and Relatives visiting home country but visiting other African Destinations. These should be our first line of attack because most have dual Citizenship.

Do African Natives Abroad want to visit African and what do they want.  To answer these questions I have attached two very interesting Articles about two set of Travel consultants. The Traditional Henderson Family and the new school trendy Tour consultants. They make for an interesting reading about the travel habits if African Natives Abroad.

“Gaynelle Henderson is the second-generation owner of Henderson Tours, a trailblazer among African-Americans in the travel industry.

Her late parents, Jacob and Freddye Henderson, were visionaries who founded the agency in Atlanta in 1955. Rosa Parks was arrested that year for refusing to move to the back of a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama.

Freddye Henderson wanted to create a cultural and business niche overseas, even as Jim Crow blocked many blacks from the polls, barred them from many restaurants and hindered their travel in the Deep South.

Freddye felt that Africa would embrace African-Americans. She believed that blacks here could experience freedom, education and entertainment in Africa, rather than endure pervasive racism at home.

Henderson Tours pioneered African tourism, according to Gaynelle Henderson. It was the first travel agency to offer large, multi-group tours to West Africa. Freddye and Jacob led their first group of clients to Africa in 1957, when Ghana celebrated its formal independence.

“My parents were taking clients to Africa before Pan Am was flying to Africa,” Henderson said. “It was known as the ‘Dark Continent’ back then.”

Henderson said the family enterprise was created because many blacks wanted to visit Africa to learn more about their heritage. So, her parents coined their agency motto: “Education through Exposure.”

“We were pioneers in African-American tourism,” Henderson said in her Silver Spring, Maryland office. “Today, we offer customized and tailored trips to Africa.”

What difficulties confronted an African-focused travel agency early on? Henderson said that her parents had to charter planes from Paris to Africa. U.S. airlines had yet to fly there.

Henderson said that, even today, some black Americans are skeptical about traveling to Africa and wonder if it offers first-class hotels and high-end

This other story I also got from an article in an American Newspaper .

Tastemakers Africa, Nomadness Travel Tribe and Travel Noire have one unique thing in common.

They are all part of the “Black Travel” movement — a growing band of travel agents and social networks that celebrate and promote travel by people of color.

“There has always been a stereotype that people of color don’t travel — or if they do, that they’ll go to the Caribbean or Miami,” says Evita Robinson, CEO and creator of travel community Nomadness Travel Tribe.

“But it wasn’t that people of color weren’t traveling, it was that mass media wasn’t documenting it.”

African-Americans, for example, are traveling now more than ever.

From 3 percentage points in 2013, intent to travel among African-Americans increased to 6 points in 2014, to 19 points in 2015 and up another 18 points this year, says Steve Cohen, vice president of Insights at travel and hospitality marketing firm MMGY Global.

How is black travel different?

With its tagline “for the savvy Black Traveler”, Travel Noire knows exactly who its audience is.

The popularity of such sites is derived precisely from tapping into an under-served market of people who claim there is something inherently different about the way people of color travel, and who want to connect with this group.

Nomadness Travel Tribe, for example, has 13,000 members who keep in contact via a private Facebook group.

“People of color engage with local people more, and travel in groups more often,” says Cherae Robinson, who started Tastemakers Africa last year.

The success of these businesses points to a gap in the market.

“When you speak to the tourism boards on the African continent, they will tell you that their market is middle aged, retired Europeans, so the industry is built around them,” explains Cherae Robinson.

“They are looking for things like safari.

“We’ve tapped into a wave of Africans wanting to see different representation of themselves, and people from elsewhere who want authentic experiences.”

“People are curious — African music is beginning to permeate pop culture. We’re the link between being curious and actually going there and experiencing it yourself.”  Source:

From these quotes we know there is a huge tourism market for Africa our there in the Diaspora.

So How do we as Africans on the continent engage them and build on the capacity Available.


1.   Information About Africa and the Perception Hurdle.

2.   Visa hurdle which Afflicts Intra African Travel more than the international Tourists. Most Diaspora Passports have more Access to Africa  than Africans themselves. Visa Free Africa will solve this. If by 2018 Africa starts a visa free Continent we have to find a way to accommodate our Diaspora Brothers in a Visa free Africa if we plan to tap the market. East Africa is leading the way with the Common EAC visa which allows you to visit 3 countries Rwanda ,Kenya and Uganda with one Visa. It is hoped that Southern Africa and West Africa will eventually adopt a similar Schengen style Visa regime.

3.   Transportation … Connecting Two African Countries by Air is still a challenge but this will be solved by the African Open Skies which is expected to come into play soon. Connecting to Africa from everywhere has improved tremendously from the time the Hendersons have to hire Flights from Paris to come to Africa.

4.   Marketing.  Africa still needs to market itself properly to the necessary Audience using all  available tools of modern marketing.

5.   Networking.  This where Africa has done very little to connect its Tourism with the market.

Sometimes in 1977 Nigeria hosted the Festival of Black Arts and Culture FESTAC 77 which was the biggest gathering of Blacks from all continents for a cultural event. After that subsequent attempts to connect African Culture with the Diaspora have not thrived.

There was the African-African American Summit promoted by Leon Sullivan. It brought the Disapora and the Continent together though on a political level. It seems to have died a natural death with the death Of the Illustrious  Sullivan. Today we are having India-Africa, China -African etc meetings but have forgotten the meetings with our brothers.

The Africa Travel Association Congresses were the only other option available for african Practitioners to connect with their Brothers in Diaspora but that seemed to have Hiccuped recently. ATA was an American based association that didn’t get a lot of Buy in by Some Africans.

The absence of a pan African association to first connect  Africans to themselves before connecting others gave rise to TheTeamAfrica an association that I helped to Birth last year in Rwanda with like minded Africans in Travel Business. The aim is to connect 1000 travel practitioners from over 20 African countries. We are on the path to achieving that.

Theteamafrica set out a group of Objectives to drive


Our Objectives

a.   Promote Africa as a desirable destination to Africans.

b.   Grow trade, travel and tourism within Africa.

c.   Improve economic wellbeing of Africans through tourism & travel.

d.   Grow network & linkage between Africans.

e.   Build a continent wide partnership of Africans interested in Africa.

f.     Network with Africans in diaspora as a way of growing travel within Africa.

g.   Work with any organization or persons with similar objectives to grow intra- African trade, travel & tourism.

h.   Provide a platform for Africans to relate and interact with one another.


a.  Search & promote the 21 wonders of Africa

b.  Promote Africa open skies

c.  Promote the project for a visa less Africa for Africans – the African passport

d.  Promote African events within African

e.  Get at least 10million Africans to travel within Africa in 3years time and 120 Million People in 10 years

I end this presentation by setting goals for us all.

What do we want to achieve with all Diaspora?

Build a stronger bond with the Diaspora by encouraging them to visit Africa once in a lifetime.

If Diaspora is the 6th region of the African Union can I propose that the AU secretariat to issue a Diaspora  Passport that allows African Diaspora to benefit from the Visa on Arrival regime currently available in Africa.

The only thing we can give to every Diaspora is an unforgettable experience of Africa. This will make the immigration stamp the biggest export from Africa. This can only happen if every Diaspora African becomes an Ambassador.

Together we can make this happen in the next 5 years. I am happy that we are now working together with CIDO and AU.

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