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Second only to Asia in both population and size, the continent of Africa is an amalgamation of countries, people, places and some of the world’s most unique geography. However, Africa remains the world’s poorest continent and still suffers from widespread disease, corrupt government and slavery. Hardly the ideal tourist destination—or so one would think.

Tourism has become the world’s single largest industry, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO); in 2006, world tourism receipts exceeded $700 billion. The act of finding emerging tourist destinations has become big business and tourism can bring great benefit to nations in need. A number of Africa's 53 countries are beginning to feel what destinations such as China, Vietnam and Montenegro have already: the light of being a tourist destination shed upon them.

Tourists on a camel trek passing by an oasis in the Sahara Desert
Camel treks in the Sahara are now a popular tourist activity
Africa’s tourism grew by nearly 10 percent in 2005, outpacing the world average of 5.5 percent, according to a report by the UNWTO. Mozambique and Kenya were the fastest-growing tourist destinations that year. In 2006 the UNWTO reported continued tourism growth of 10.6 percent, with a forecast of 4 percent growth in 2007.

Kenya attracted almost one million tourists in 2006 and received $857 million in tourism revenue that year. Kenya has already implemented a plan for success by setting aside 10 percent of the country for wildlife and biodiversity creation, according to Now Public, a news blog. Some 11 percent of Kenya’s workforce is employed by the tourism industry.

There is some disparity in the numbers that should be recognized for Africa as a whole. Much of the recent tourism growth has been in sub-Saharan Africa, which is the lower three quarters of the continent, south of the Sahara Desert. Based on UNWTO world tourism receipts numbers, sub-Saharan Africa received $14.5 billion—more than twice as much as the $7 billion received by North Africa.

While people are beginning to realize Africa is a major destination, there are still a number of issues which require immediate attention in order for the continent's many countries to be traversed safely. A 2004 publication by UNWTO about Africa looked at some of these problems, namely safe air travel, to help improve tourism and tourist safety. The UNWTO has been working closely with African officials to improve the continent as a viable tourism destination by protecting those visiting, as well as the continent's inhabitants and ecosystems.

Ngorongoro crater in Tanzania is one of the beautiful destinations in the country
Tanzania's increasing stability may draw more tourism
Improving infrastructure and appealing to a more diverse tourism audience are just a couple of things Africa will have to do in order to continue its growth. Europe, its neighbor to the north, still leads the world in tourist visits at 443 million in 2005, half of that year’s total amount. While European tourism has continued to grow slowly, Africa’s explosive growth rate could be a sign of good things to come.

Some African countries have been exemplary in their efforts to curb internal strife and emerge as popular tourist destinations. Ethiopia, which was named by Frommer’s as a top 10 travel destination in 2007, worked through political issues and widespread famine to create necessary infrastructure for travelers. Tanzania has also become a more stable destination that promotes safety in order to attract tourists, according to Now Public.

Although some key issues, namely in the vein of safety, continue to hurt some destinations in Africa, change is coming and Africa’s growth in the world tourism market has been a sign of improvement. The UNWTO expects Africa’s tourism growth to continue, as it works to make the continent an improved destination for a wider range of tourists.