Western countries lead the World Economic Forum’s tourism ranking

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The World Economic Forum has published the 2015 edition of its  biennial Travel and Tourism Competitiveness report. The ranking is dominated by western countries, the top three positions are taken by Spain, France and Germany. The best African country is South Africa, 48th, thus just making the top-50. Seychelles, Mauritius and Namibia are the only other African countries reaching the upper half of the table (TOP 70). Instead, the bottom 25 has 19 African countries, and that includes Ethiopia, Malawi and Mozambique that are actually fairly popular with tourists. The last place (141) is taken by Chad.

The Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index is calculated based on the following categories:

1. Business Environment
2. Safety and Security
3. Health and Hygiene
4. Human Resources and Labour Market
5. ICT Readiness
6. Prioritization of Travel and Tourism
7. International Openness
8. Price Competitiveness
9. Environmental Sustainability
10. Air Transport Infrastructure
11. Ground and Port Infrastructure
12. Tourist Service Infrastructure
13. Natural Resources
14. Cultural Resources and Business Travel

These categories do not point directly how attractive the country is to be visited. Instead it is more of a general index how developed each country is. That said, most tourists prefer visiting developed countries that have good infrastructure.

Each country is assigned a score for each category, the higher the score the better. A total of 141 countries are included in the report. Many “no-go” countries have been left out, for example Afghanistan, both Congos, North Korea, Somalia and Syria. But some less stable countries are included, like Mauritania and Yemen.

Spain tops the Wotld Travel & Tourism Development Index. Photo of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. Source: Wikipedia.
Spain tops the Wotld Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index. Photo of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. Source: Wikipedia.

The poor performance by African countries can be readily explained on how the index is being generated. Sub-Saharan African countries trail in most categories, but especially in Health&Hygiene, international openness, ICT, Air Transport and Cultural resources & business travel. Unfortunately these are issues that matter to potential visitors.

Sub-Saharan Africa does pretty well in environmental sustainability and price competitiveness categories. Middle-East and North Africa region performs best in the price competitiveness category, leading Asia-Pacific and Sub-Saharan Africa by a wide margin. Given lack of development, one would expect Sub-Saharan Africa to be cheaper destinations. Instead, some South-East Asian and Latin American countries fare better with price competitiveness, despite better overall development.

Guelta d'Archei in Northeastern Chad, one example of untapped tourism potential in the country
Guelta d’Archei in Northeastern Chad, one example of untapped tourism potential in the country. Photo source: Wikipedia

Compared to World Tourism Organization’s statistics on international tourism, there is clearly correlation between number of tourists and Travel&Tourism Competitiveness index. However the number of international tourists depends on many factors. Central European countries that top the index benefit from large pool of intra-European tourists. Since developed countries usually have neighboring countries also being well-developed, this increases number of international tourism in the country. Some small and/or remote countries receive relatively few tourists despite being high in the index, for instance Iceland, Finland and Luxembourg.

Much needs to be done if Sub-Saharan countries are to perform better in the travel&tourisms competitiveness index. From tourist point of view, the categories where Africa really need to improve are Health&hygiene, Air transport, and International Openness (particularly visa policies). While many African countries have plenty of great tourist attractions, infrastructure and  tourism industry will have to catch up.

Further reading:

# Africa This Time, July 19, 2015: World Tourism Organization 2014 stats – small growth in Africa

# Oromian Economist, May 18, 2015. Ethiopia among the 10 poorest performers in the World Economic Forum Report for Human Capital

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