The 2010 World Cup and the "Obama effect" of a United States president of African heritage has sparked a surge in interest in much of Africa as a tourist destination, industry analysts said.
Analysts in Madrid at the annual Fitur tourism trade fair, one of the world's largest, said the continent is slowly starting to fulfil its vast potential for tourism.
"There has been a shift in the way people look at Africa," said Taleb Rifai, Secretary-General, UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO).
"Compared to 10 years ago they have come a long, long way. Africa is now considered a very serious destination for travellers from the major generating markets."
In its annual World Tourism Barometer released last week, the Madrid-based UNWTO said Africa had "bucked the global trend" in 2009, with international tourist arrivals to the continent increasing five per cent.
That compared to a slump of four per cent in travel worldwide last year amid the economic crisis and the swine flu pandemic.
The World Cup football tournament, due to be hosted by South Africa in June and in which 32 nations are taking part, now looks set to help push the number of travellers to Africa even higher.
Nigel Vere Nicoll, Head of the Africa Travel and Tourism Association (ATTA), said: "The World Cup is certainly the most exciting thing to happen to Africa, not just southern Africa, all Africans are very proud that it's going to be there."
Nicoll said his London-based organisation has been looking at programmes to encourage travellers to extend their South Africa visit into neighbouring countries, although with limited success. "There's an initiative in Zambia, Zimbabwe but I'm not sure that it's actually going to work..."
World Cup organising chief Danny Jordaan has said South Africa hopes the competition will help promote the country's tourism industry in new markets, especially in the Americas.
But the tourist industry in parts of Africa is also seeking to attract more US visitors in a different way. The 2008 election of President Barack Obama, whose father was an immigrant from Kenya, already appears to be encouraging African-Americans to trace their roots.
The "Obama effect" has helped bring the number of Americans visiting Kenya back to around what it was in 2007, before arrivals plummeted in the wake of the riots that followed disputed elections in December of that year, according to Murithi Ndegwa, Managing Director of the Kenya Tourist Board.
The Kenyans are now building a tourist industry around the hometown of Obama's father in the modest village of Nyangoma-Kogelo. (AFP)
MMI travel's FIFA packages
MMI Travel has launched travel packages for the 2010 Fifa World Cup in South Africa. The deal includes flights, accommodation, ground transportation and match tickets.
Abdulla Tawakul, Senior Vice-President, Regional and Corporate Travel, said: "I am delighted that MMI Travel has been appointed the participating tour operator in the UAE..."
The packages, which have been authorised by Fifa, include category one tickets for one Group Stage match, economy-class flights from Dubai to Johannesburg, three nights accommodation on a twin sharing basis, return airport and stadium transfers and a host of additional extras.
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