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'Experience' Tourism Brings New Travelers to Africa


Russian tourists are seen shopping at the old medina in Sousse, Tunisia, Sept. 30, 2017.

Travel industry leaders say African tourism is moving away from traditional safaris and group tours and closer to the idea of "experiences."

Internet-based home-sharing service Airbnb is just one of several businesses competing for the African tourism market.

Chris Lehane is head of global policy at Airbnb. He says the service has grown in the past year. It sold two million bookings in Africa this year.

Lehane says the new area of growth is travel experiences. In Nairobi, Kenya, for example, people can pay $65 to make a short film with a local director.

South Africa's Western Cape area is popular with tourists. For about $100, someone going there can take a guided bicycle tour, go to a wine-tasting event, or attend a class in jewelry-making.

Lehane says this suggests what is to come.

"Fifty-six percent of travelers are millennials. They're looking for real, authentic experiences."

World traveler Cherae Robinson had that same hunger for true-to-life travel experiences. In 2014, at age 30, she launched a travel website called Tastemakers Africa. Her website offers many experiences for tourists. There are $3,000 ‘all-in’ tour programs, with a number of experiences included. And, there are shorter experiences that last a few hours and cost an average of $77.

"People don't want cookie cutter.... Nobody wants to be crammed into a tour bus. People are looking for authenticity in their lives in general."

Lehane has high hopes for African tourism. For example, in the past two years, Mexico City has grown quickly as a popular stop for travelers after not being one for years.

"And, by the way, after not being one for some of the same questions that people will raise about places in Africa. But it exploded because of the art scene, food scene, history…"

He adds that visitors can easily walk around at least 10 African cities with a nice mix of artwork, good food and history. He says such attractions will likely make them huge travel destinations.

Robinson says her favorite city is Accra, Ghana's lively capital.

"We see Accra as the perfect marriage of, sort of, what we think of a sort of traditional West African culture with very modern vibes attached to it," she said.

"And so, from art to entertainment to music to fashion, it all can be found in Accra." In many ways, Accra is the center of these things, she says.

Lehane and Robinson say their goal is to provide travel that will not grow outdated and that supports local people. They want to avoid "poverty tourism" – travelers visiting poor neighborhoods --as this rarely helps communities.

Lehane says Airbnb is investing $1 million to build tourism projects in poorer neighborhoods, beginning in Cape Town, South Africa. The local communities will lead the projects. Tastemakers Africa tour hosts are already all local people.

Heather Mason is a travel writer and photographer who lives in South Africa. She says while tourists cannot avoid the economic inequity in parts of Africa, they can treat these places with respect.

"I think every place, in every city, can be a tourist attraction and it should not matter whether the people living there are rich or poor."

Mason says there is value in the decisions tour operates make.

"I think you can definitely get that wrong really easily. If there's people are on tours through townships or what people might call a slum, and you do not have local guides, and you don't brief participants in the tour how to be respectful, then you can run into problems."

Mason's heart, she says, is in Johannesburg – South Africa's large economic center. Some tourists avoid the city, however, because they think crime will be a problem. But Mason says go a little deeper and you will find wonderful choices for things to see, do, taste and hear. And these things are an example of the colorful experiences that are life and the new face of travel in Africa.

I'm Alice Bryant.

Anita Powell reported this story for VOA News. Alice Bryant adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

booking – n. an arrangement to have something, such as a reservation, held for your use at a later time

millennial – n. a person who was born in the 1980s or 1990s

cookie cutter – adj. lacking individuality

cram – v. to push or force someone or something into a space that is tight or crowded

vibe – n. a feeling that a person or place gives you

slum – n. an area of a city where poor people live and the buildings are in bad condition

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