The timing of President Obama's trip couldn't be any better, especially with Africa becoming a more accessible tourism market for Americans.
According to sources at the Department of Commerce's Office of Travel & Tourism Industries, Europe is still the number one destination of choice, followed by the Caribbean, Asia-Pacific and Latin America. But the outlook for both business and leisure travel to Africa is bright. While the number of U.S. visitors to the African continent has been down in recent years, spending by U.S. travelers has increased every year, up 150% from 2003.
This is especially good news for Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania, countries that will not only host the President and his family, but also large delegations of American economic officials, business executives and journalists.
During President Obama's three-country, week-long tour, each delegate - or visitor - will play an important role in the growth of the specific destination. As we all know, tourism changes a visitor's perception of a place that he or she may have only read about or watched on the news.
Tourism also leads to direct investment in the local economy. Every taxi ride, restaurant meal, hotel stay, street purchase, and museum visit has an immediate impact on the local community and people's lives.
In the medium-to-long-term, tourism creates opportunities for job creation, earnings, business investment, trade and entrepreneurship. It also can pave the way for environmental and cultural preservation, strengthened national identity and political understanding.
The Africa Travel Association has been bringing large delegations from the United States to Africa for 38 years now. In fact, Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania all have longtime relationships with the association. Each one has hosted an ATA travel industry events, dating back to ATA's eco and cultural tourism symposium in the coastal town of Saly, Senegal in 1992 and, most recently, ATA's 36th world congress in Dakar, Senegal in 2011. Events like these - two in Senegal, two in South Africa and three in Tanzania - have a longstanding and lasting impact on U.S. and African relations.
When President Obama stops in Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania, trade, investment and business, alongside development, democratization and Africa's youth population will be the topics on hand. Tourism intersects with each one of these issues.