Sustainable Livelihoods from Rural Tourism in Africa

Rural tourism is perceived as an initiative to create development in rural regions. The African continent is rich in its cultural diversity, and most of the cultural heritage is in the rural and underdeveloped areas. Communities residing in these rural areas majorly depend on tourism as a means of sustaining their livelihoods. In attaining sustainable livelihoods, rural tourism in Africa needs resilience against stresses and shocks for sustainable development. Therefore, this essay establishes the different opportunities rural tourism presents for sustainable livelihoods, factors building sustainable livelihoods, challenges hindering sustainable livelihoods, and ways to develop rural tourism to support sustainable livelihoods in Africa.

Opportunities Rural Tourism in Africa Presents for sustainable livelihoods

Rural tourism development presents various opportunities that enhance sustainable livelihoods. Some of these opportunities include; rural tourism being an alternative source of income as many people seek employment in the tourism sector in different capacities. Through its promotion, rural communities can attain sustainable livelihoods. Another opportunity is rural revitalization and diversification of the economy. Through tourism development, rural communities have diversified their activities for economic development. The growing demand for tourism has placed the rural regions to face urbanization and enjoy rural development that ensures social, economic, and cultural sustainability.

Rural tourism initiates nature-based solutions that help maintain the serenity and pristine nature of the rural areas. Moreover, income generated from tourism activities can be diverted into the conservation and preservation of culture. The communities can model their cultural heritage for economic gains to enable them to sustain their livelihoods. However, local culture should be commercialized in a manner that ensures cultural sustainability. By showcasing and finding markets for their crafts, these communities strengthen their local identity.

Rural tourism has encouraged stable rural economies through trade, the creation of employment, and the conservation of local culture. The World Tourism Organization’s Sustainable Tourism-Eliminating Poverty (ST-EP) initiative has helped build capacity for tourism development in various regions. Through this initiative, rural communities can attain sustainable development goals of no poverty, hunger, and reducing inequalities among other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), thereby ensuring sustainable livelihoods.

Rural tourism also presents opportunities for community engagement; hence, creating new markets for their farm products and traditional arts and crafts. However, these markets cannot be sustained if there is a minimal local trade. The development of rural tourism attracts investments in the tourism sector by reviving dormant touristic resources. In doing so, leakages are eliminated, and through these linkages, tourism revenue is retained in these rural destinations.

The development of rural destinations enhances community pride even in places with minimal resources. It also promotes intercultural learning through cultural exchanges. Rural tourism presents opportunities for social cohesion and inclusion, enabling accessibility of services by all. As a result, rural communities create sustainable livelihoods. In Kenya, devolution has enabled the distribution of resources to rural areas for development. This has consequently enabled the development of tourism investments for sustained growth to achieve sustainable livelihoods.

Factors building sustainable livelihoods from rural tourism in Africa

Rural tourism and sustainable livelihoods in Africa co-relate through protection, conservation, and preservation of natural resources, while practising sustainable tourism activities that benefit the host communities to improve their living standards. Commitment from the community to support and drive rural tourism is a critical factor in building sustainable livelihoods. Local communities’ workability, advanced skills, and energetic demographic groups create a viable work environment to promote rural tourism while improving livelihoods.

Empowerment and creating awareness to the local community through vocational training, seminars, and programs is another factor for enhancing sustainable livelihoods. It helps discover available opportunities in rural tourism in Africa and seize them for the benefit of their livelihoods, and by doing so, achieve sustainable development.

Growing emphasis on conserving natural resources that form the base of rural tourism e. g eco-tourism activities, is another factor. These activities benefit the community directly while boosting the state of rural tourism. All this is not complete without incorporating host communities in the rural tourism activities that encourage them to practice conservation for themselves and future generations.

Another essential factor is favourable policies that encourage rural tourism development; hence, increasing tourism activities’ output. It, in turn, attracts agile investors and Small and Medium Entreprises (SMEs) that are constantly exploring new experiences to fit the changing clientele in rural tourism and building sustainable livelihoods. Modern and advanced technology is also a key player in building sustainable livelihoods by creating a platform that enhances the accessibility of tourism products. It also helps in increasing the visibility of hidden and undiscovered gems. For instance, technology has helped identify various attractions in the western circuit of Kenya and encouraged tourism development in the region.

The devolution of the government has also stood out as a critical contributor for building sustainable livelihoods because the Government has been able to distribute necessary amenities to the rural areas. It has influenced the construction of road networks that boost accessibility; thus, attracting more visitors and benefiting the host community by creating sustainable livelihoods. The changing tourism dynamics and unforeseeable risk factors like the COVID-19 pandemic have increased domestic tourism activities. Thereby changing some of the consumerism trends leading to the opening up of untapped destinations in the rural areas and creating employment for the locals, has boosted their livelihoods to greater levels while observing sustainable tourism practices.

Challenges hindering the development of sustainable livelihoods for rural tourism in Africa

Rural tourism development in Africa is faced with various challenges that inhibit the development of sustainable livelihoods. Lack of awareness of potential tourist markets and demand is one of the major challenges hindering sustainable livelihoods for rural tourism in Africa. Another challenge is poor and underdeveloped infrastructure that hinders the accessibility of these rural destinations. Lack of connectivity and gaps in the promotion of rural destinations impedes tourism development for sustainable livelihoods. Basic amenities and human resources are also a challenge for rural tourism development.

Poor governance and unfavourable policies is another challenge in creating sustainable livelihoods as it results in unequal distribution of resources. As a result, rural destinations remain underdeveloped, and natural resources remain underutilized. Additionally, inadequate marketing of rural destinations to promote rural tourism is a challenge. The stimulation of investment in rural tourism from global and local programs without adequate markets to sustain the supply threatens the stability of livelihoods.

Tourism also fuels inequalities in society; rural communities perceive tourism as a foreign practice and reserved for the wealthy; thus, the locals do not consume the tourism products and services. Community exclusion from decision-making processes harbours successful tourism development. It leads to conflict development as locals are left out in the development process. For example, the local community in Maasai Mara barricade the Sekenani road protesting their exclusion from the reserve’s affairs.

Lack of community empowerment to enhance self-development is another challenge hindering the development of sustainable livelihoods. Most locals do not own the tourism businesses; thus, there is an increased need for encouraging locals to develop tourism businesses for economic development. In doing so, they will be able to attain sustainable livelihoods. Climate change has resulted in the destruction of natural resources and its adverse effects on the environment, hinders sustainable livelihoods. The effects of climate change result in depletion of local resources forcing rural families to live in poverty. High illiteracy levels among the locals limit their skills in developing and running tourism businesses.

Leakages are another challenge to attaining sustainable livelihoods as communities do not retain earnings and revenue for rural development. Similarly, the practice of rural tourism should not be viewed as a substitute to other economic activities, rather an opportunity for diversifying their economic development. That is, if tourism replaces traditional livelihoods it could lead to insecure communities; thus, hampering development of sustainable livelihoods. For instance, if a rural community that is dependent on fishing as their primary economic activity embrace tourism and in the process abandon fishing, they are narrowing their economic opportunities for creating sustainable livelihoods.

 How to develop rural tourism in Africa to support sustainable livelihoods.

The rising call for independent, progressive and sustainable communities is leading to the designing and planning of rural tourism in a manner that supports sustainable livelihoods in Africa. Local entrepreneurs, and private investors in rural tourism not only need to be integrated but also provided with innovations like small and micro enterprise financing and business planning. It helps in facilitating rural tourism development; hence, achieving sustainable growth of communities.

Development of a long term viable plan management and progressive policies creates a foundation for sustainable tourism development of rural tourism. The dynamic nature of rural tourism can be supported to create sustainability by putting in place measures that promote sustainable tourism practices. For instance, rural communities can receive training and empowerment through development of community organizations. Through this, the locals can also receive financial resources for economic development. This way, sustainable livelihoods are attained. Rural tourism should involve all stakeholders to create a mutual economic benefit where the local community feels included especially in the wildlife conservation measures to prevent HWC (Human Wildlife Conflicts) and protecting migratory corridors between farms, ranches, and conservancies. Such action results to a healthy practice of rural tourism leading to sustainable livelihoods.


Rural tourism in Africa is dependent on the host communities to thrive and develop economically. Bearing this in mind, rural tourism should address the various challenges that hinder its development to provide direct benefits to the communities. Moreover, training and mentoring the host community on tourism practices will enhance their capacity to create diverse opportunities for development. It will also influence the development of socially, environmentally, and culturally sustainable practices to support sustainable livelihoods. Therefore, there is a need to increase awareness of rural tourism and inclusion of rural communities in its development practices.

 By Nyamweya Doreen Moraa and Jamieh Sanzi.