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  • Josephine Wawira

The Role of NGOs in Africa’s Tourism Sector

Tourism is one of the largest sectors in Africa, contributing approximately 3.3% to the total Sub-Saharan Africa GDP, and forecast to grow, in terms of GDP contribution by 5.2% between 2016-2026 in the same region.

Various stakeholders have contributed to this growth, among them Non-governmental organizations. Here are different major roles which NGOs have played in developing tourism in Africa.

Driving Sustainable Tourism Due to the continuous growth and influx of tourists into the continent, the industry has at some point been criticized for various negative impacts on the environment. These include increased pressure on the natural resources, people displacement by investors in search for more land to develop, sex tourism, illegal hunting and poaching, among others. Some NGOs have come in handy to salvage the situation, by for instance acting as watchdogs and critics of tourism policies by governments and/or companies and other organizations that are detrimental to the environment.

Promoting Rural Tourism While most tourist destinations are based in rural areas such as Samburu in Kenya, Omo River in Ethiopia, and Kabala in Sierra Leone just to mention a few; it is palpable that most of the host communities hardly benefit from tourism proceeds. In relation to this, NGOs have played a prominent role in increasing rural development, since they often work at the grassroots level. They are also frequently involved in innumerable community-based development programs such as infrastructural development that not only benefit tourists but the locals as well. By ensuring fair distribution of benefits, NGOs help in safeguarding the long term economic gains for the rural communities.


Voluntourism or volunteer travel has become popular in Africa, as more people seek to do short term volunteer work, while at the same time partaking in tourism and exploring local destinations. Most of these volunteer opportunities are provided by either local or international NGOs, thus attracting more tourists into the continent.

Conference tourism

With most of them organizing major conferences that bring together thousands of participants, NGOs majorly play a role in Africa's conference tourism. The hospitality sector is especially a major benefactor, due to the massive accommodation and catering services required during the conferences.

Foreign Direct Investment

A 2016 UNCTAD report (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development), indicates that Africa recorded an increase in flow of foreign direct investment (FDI) of more than 25% compared to the same period last year. NGOs have in their part made numerous investments in the continent, especially by funding various development related projects.


While undertaking the above-mentioned projects, there requires manpower to ensure r success and continuous development. NGOs that are proactive in engaging local communities have thus created employment in various positions both in the managerial and junior levels. This has helped African countries in tackling the ever-challenging high rate of unemployment particularly among the youth.

Cultural Integration

NGOs are said to have a common value of integration and diversity. This calls for the inclusion of all regardless of ethnicity, religion, culture, disability, gender, and nationality. The organizations therefore act as a converging ground for different cultures, thus promoting cultural integration.

Non-Governmental Organizations, ranging from research-driven, to aid organizations, and activist groups, have had their cons including being criticized for contributing to the underdevelopment of the continent. However, it is no doubt that their role in Africa and particularly in the tourism industry has gone a long way in bettering the entire continent's economy.

Josephine Wawira is a Consultant in Communications and Public Relations, with over 6 years of progressive writing and broadcast experience. Currently a writer for Jumia Travel, Africa's leading online hotel booking portal, focusing in the areas of travel and tourism as relates to Africa. See all her articles here.

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