Romance Tourism: Exploring the Allure of Love Within African Borders


Romantic tourism, also referred to as love tourism or relationship tourism, has grown in popularity amongst world travellers seeking romantic encounters, love or marriage while exploring new destinations. Authors Deborah Pruitt and Suzanne LaFont first introduced the term’ romance tourism’ in their 1995 publication titled For Love and Money: Romance Tourism in Jamaica to describe the relationships between western female tourists and local black men generally referred to as ‘Beach Boys’. 

Romance tourism has existed for much longer, as Samuel Sunday Segun Odunlami points out in his 2009 research titled Romance Tourism in Africa: Case Study of Ghana.  

“Enloe (1998) stressed that sex tourism has been in existence from the ancient Roman Empire to the famous Ground Tours of Europe in the eighteenth century through nineteenth century’s Thomas Cooks’ tours.” He adds that around the 1770s and 1880s, southern Europe and the Middle East saw an influx of married and single French and English aristocratic women searching for relationships with Mediterranean men. 

Romance tourism has for many years been dominated by travellers from the United States, Canada, Western Europe, and Japan, with male tourists frequent countries like Brazil, Thailand, Philippines, Cuba, Costa Rica, India and Sri Lanka in search of more “exotic” women and female tourists preferring Jamaica, Barbados, the Dominican Republic, Tunisia, Egypt, The Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Bali, Guyana, Nepal, and Cuba. 

Romantic tourism attracts many participants for many reasons. For some, it’s an opportunity to escape the mundane routines of everyday life and experience a whirlwind romantic adventure in the freedom of a foreign land. For others, it’s for companionship or intimacy, especially if they have trouble finding a suitable partner in their home country. 

Romance tourism has spawned some famous media pieces, like the reality TV show 90-Day Fiance and its spin-off 90-Day Fiance: The Other Way, which chronicles the experiences of a few American men and women who move abroad for love. More often than not, the age gaps in these relationships are significant, with some couples having a difference as big as 30 years. 

How Stella Got Her Groove Back is a 1998 American romantic comedy-drama film starring Angela Bassett as Stella Payne, a very successful 40-year-old stockbroker and single mom who meets Winston Shakespeare (played by Taye Diggs), a chef’s assistant who is twenty years her junior, on vacation to Montego Bay, Jamaica. While Stella may not have gone to Jamaica specifically to meet a love interest, the film provides an idea of how romance tourism can operate. 

Many global destinations have taken advantage of the allure of romance tourism by promoting their romantic scene, culture and vibe, and Africa is no different. Beach resorts, luxury cruises and secluded resorts offer exclusive experiences for those looking for a romantic getaway. Themed holidays are a growing trend in romantic travel. These include matchmaking visits, speed dating events, and relationship-building workshops. Participants come together with the common goal of connecting romantically, often guided by a facilitator or matchmaker. 

Osa Mbonu of IOL asked: Is Africa becoming a female sex tourism destination? 

“Finally, African men’s sexual prowess can be put to use,” Mbonu opens up the article. “Already, quite a number of women from the western world are embarking on sex tourism trips to Africa.” 

Older Western women are opening up their options by making trips to Africa, and African men are embracing them with open arms. It’s a business transaction – these women satisfy their carnal urges, and the men make money. 

“And the African men are quite efficient in the service. The dollars are rolling in, business is good. But some say it is an immoral trade, while others say it is exploitative,” Mbonu shares. 

“It’s a social arrangement,” says Bethan, a 56-year-old woman from southern England travelling Kenya. “I buy him a nice shirt and we go out for dinner. For as long as he stays with me he doesn’t pay for anything, and I get what I want – a good time. How is that different from a man buying a young girl dinner?” 

When asked about his thoughts on the trade, chairman of the Kenya Tourist Board Jake Grieves-Cook told Reuters that while the practice is not evil, “it’s certainly something we frown upon.” He further shared that some hotel managers endeavor to discourage the course by going as far as refusing to change guests’ single rooms to double rooms.

“It’s about trying to make those guests feel as uncomfortable as possible,” he added. “But it’s a fine line. We are 100 percent against anything illegal, such as prostitution. But it’s different with something like this – it’s just unwholesome.” 

Romance tourism is a unique facet of the travel industry that evokes contrasting opinions. It is crucial to approach romance tourism with sensitivity and ethical considerations, ensuring all participants engage in consensual and respectful interactions. As the industry evolves, striking a balance between the pursuit of love and ethical responsibility will be vital in ensuring a positive and fulfilling experience for all involved. 


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