Africa has long been a popular destination for leisure travellers seeking to experience the continent’s breath-taking landscapes, rich cultural heritage, and diverse wildlife. However, AAXO has identified a growing trend whereby business travellers are now making significant contributions to the continent’s overall tourism GDP.

Devi Paulsen-Abbott, Chair of AAXO and Vice President of dmg events
Devi Paulsen-Abbott, chairperson of AAXO
In South Africa, tourism is also demonstrating a healthy recovery. Both business and leisure tourist arrivals increased by 78.2% in the first half of 2023 when compared to the same period in 2022, with the latest reports showing that business spending represents a share of 43% of overall tourism contributions.

Devi Paulsen-Abbott, chairperson of AAXO – the Association of African Exhibition Organisers, says, “This development reflects the increasing recognition of Africa’s potential as a hub for international conferences, conventions, and corporate events. This remarkable growth can be attributed to several factors that have combined to make Africa an increasingly attractive destination for business travellers.”

5 key factors contributing to this growth
Devi shares the following five factors as key contributors to the rise of business tourism in Africa:

Infrastructure investment

African countries have made substantial investments in infrastructure development, such as modern airports, state-of-the-art convention centres, and top-notch hotels. These facilities have enhanced the continent’s capacity to host large-scale business events, conferences, and exhibitions.

Improved connectivity

Enhanced connectivity through expanded flight routes and airline networks has made it easier for international business travellers to access African destinations. Major airlines have increased their services to African cities, providing convenience for corporate travellers.

Political stability

The continent’s political stability in many regions has fostered an environment conducive to hosting international business events. This stability has increased confidence among organisers and attendees alike.

Economic growth

Africa’s emerging economies and growing middle class have attracted more business investment. As a result, the continent has become an attractive location for global companies to expand their operations, leading to an influx of business travellers.

Cultural diversity

Africa’s diverse cultures and unique experiences are increasingly incorporated into corporate events and conferences. This blend of business and cultural experiences adds to the allure of the continent.

The myriad benefits that tourism brings
It can be hard to measure the economic impact of business travellers versus leisure ones, as oftentimes they can be one and the same person: A businessperson can extend their stay to explore their meetings and events destination (blending business and leisure, also referred to as bleisure), or even book extended stays while they work remotely in a new destination (the digital nomad trend). But what is known is the huge economic benefit that tourism offers.

According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, the travel and tourism sector contributed 7.6% to global GDP last year alone – an increase of 22% from 2021 and only 23% below 2019 levels – showcasing the contribution of business tourism on the global GDP.

Tourism growth supports job creation and economic empowerment in local communities which has a ripple effect on various sectors, including hospitality, transportation, and local businesses, thereby fostering sustainable economic development.

“Industry experts and stakeholders see this trend continuing in the coming years, with Africa poised to become a premier destination for international business events. Governments and tourism authorities across the continent are recognising the potential of business tourism and are actively working to attract more conferences and conventions,” adds Devi.

For more information on AAXO, visit

Cover image by rawpixel.

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