Why Tourism is Essential to Artisans in Africa

August 26, 2021

Why Tourism is Essential to Artisans in Africa

Certain industries fuel a country’s economy. For example, in Canada, the service industry contributes 69.8 percent to the GDP, and researchers estimate that around 76 percent of the labor force is concentrated in that sector. 

Of course, other industries play a role in Canada’s success as well. Manufacturing and agriculture are critical markets that feed into Canada’s achievement as one of the wealthiest nations in the world. But the industries driving Canada’s economy aren’t the exact same industries driving every economy in the world. 

For instance, in the U.S., healthcare, construction, technology, and retail are all making notable contributions to the nation’s economy. In Europe, automotive, aerospace, and defense are major industries that are catapulting the region’s success. And in Africa, manufacturing and services, construction, banking, and retailing are helping the continent grow. 

Based on the research, each of these regions is prospering off of varying industries. While there is some overlap, the people in these locations specialize in different things and are contributing to their economy in different ways as a result. 

However, there is one industry that’s pretty common, specifically in developing countries, and that’s called the artisan industry. Centered around men and women who know how to create material objects entirely or partly by hand, the artisan industry is a major sector in developing regions. But its success hinges on one thing: tourism. 

For example, many countries in Africa have a thriving artisan industry, but those artisans in Africa can’t make a living and contribute to the economy without frequent tourism. 


The current state of tourism in Africa 

Tourism has become a vital part of African economics. In fact, over the last 20 years, it’s become the backbone for some countries. Research suggests that in 2018, 67 million tourists visited Africa, making the continent the second-fastest growing region with regard to tourism, only second to Asia-Pacific. 

With increased investments in the sector along with beneficial policy changes, Africa has started to attract more tourists than ever before. Just take a look at Ethiopia. After improving flight connectivity while relaxing visa restrictions, Addis—the capital of Ethiopia—has become a regional transport hub, even beating out Dubai as the world’s gateway to Africa. 

Other countries like Kenya, Rwanda, and South Africa have also seen a boost in tourism because of their willingness to position themselves as prime locations for business conferences and exhibitions. And these business-friendly policies have had a significant impact on Africa’s prosperity. 

In 2018, the tourism industry contributed $169 billion to Africa’s economy. Additionally, the continent experienced increases in business investments and leisure spending, which accounted for 71 percent of tourism spending.  

Undoubtedly, much of the money tourists spent for fun went to the amazing artisans in Africa who produced beautiful glasswork, jewelry, home decor, and more. These artisans—especially those in developing countries—thrive when tourism flourishes because they have more people to sell their products to, especially since few of them have sales channels that work on an international level. 


The link between tourism and artisans

For any business to be successful, it needs digital channels. This fact may not have been true decades ago, but it’s definitely the case today. However, in developing countries, only 35 percent of the population has access to the internet compared to 80 percent of people in advanced countries. 

Keeping that in mind, it’s not unreasonable to think that most artisans in Africa who want to make a living need tourism. Without people physically walking into or passing by their shops, they have no way of selling their items. 

And this may not sound like an important issue. After all, are there really that many artisans living in the world today? According to research, the answer is a resounding yes. 

Millions of people in developing countries are in the artisan industry. In fact, behind agriculture, the artisan industry is the second largest employer in developing countries.

Some experts even suggest that the artisan sector is such a significant part of the global creative economy that if it were a country, it would be the equivalent of the fourth-largest economy in the world, containing the fourth-largest workforce. At a forum hosted at the U.S. State Department, a government official also said, “If you’re looking for innovative ways to help developing countries flourish, artisans are a terrific place to begin.” 

The importance that people place on the artisan industry is because it’s an engine that helps decrease poverty and increase economic development. For example, in Eswatini, Africa—where 58.9 percent of the rural population lives on $1.90 per day, a figure well below the national poverty line—artisans rely heavily on their products, hoping that selling them will allow them to survive another day. 

But only through tourism can this hope become a reality. Without it, artisans in developing countries throughout Africa struggle to overcome hunger and poverty, decreasing their chances of survival. 


A look at artisans in Africa

For a better look at why artisans in Africa need tourism, an example can work wonders. For instance, let’s look at Eswatini again. With a little over 1.1 million people, Eswatini is home to many modern artisans, given the country’s rich history of handicrafts. 

It boasts numerous community projects and modern crafts markets, both in rural towns and villages and in the main urban centers of Mbabane and Manzini. These Swazi artisans in Africa make everything from intricate glassware to animal-shaped candle wax to detailed metalwork that showcases the country’s wildlife. 

Eswatini also has shops known for weaving operations that employ hundreds of men and women from remote communities. Some of these Swazi artisans in Africa are even a part of award-winning shops. 

The artisan industry is so important in Swazis’ lives that there’s also an organization that caters to artisans in Eswatini. Swaziland Fair Trade (SWIFT) is composed of brands that create beautifully designed, high-quality handcraft. Currently, the organization has more than 48 members, but it's continuously growing and giving Swazis artisans in Africa an opportunity to promote their brand online. 

However, despite this online promotion, most artisans in Eswatini still rely on tourism to sell their products. After all, Eswatini is a small country in southern Africa. Think about it—how many people do you know that search for Swazi-inspired products online?

Usually, when people look for authentic items from Africa, they google products from Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, South Africa, Morocco, and other well-known countries. Most people have never heard of Eswatini until they have a reason to visit. And it’s during that visit that people typically buy artisan products. From there, when they go home, they may start to google “products from Eswatini” whenever they want something from Africa. 

But with Eswatini, it always starts with a visit. It always comes down to tourism, which is why Swazi artisans in Africa rely on it so much. 


Support African artisans through tourism

If you want to help the artisans in developing countries like Eswatini, plan a trip to the country the next time you come to Africa. Whether it’s for business, leisure, or a mission trip, your presence will make an impact. 

The artisans in Africa need your support to keep their business afloat. And by having a physical presence in countries throughout the region, you will not only contribute to an African artisan’s success, but you will also contribute to their overall survival. 






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