COTE D’IVOIRE is working to burnish its image as a major tourist destination through increased capital investment and government-led initiatives, including regulatory reforms, promotional campaigns and security improvements.
The country has a broad offering, ranging from cultural diversity to conference facilities, and a wealth of natural attractions. However, the political instability of the previous decade impacted Côte d’Ivoire’s appeal as a tourist destination, and as the country has stabilised, the government has sought to recapture its former allure.
According to a report by the Oxford Business Group (OBG), in 2014 Côte d’Ivoire hosted 471,000 international visitors, up 24 percent year-on-year and nearly twice the number recorded in 2010. More than 500,000 visitors were estimated to have arrived last year, according to the ministry of tourism (MoT), roughly in line with the government’s projections needed to reach its target of 1m visitors by 2020.
Direct revenue from travel and tourism amounted to CFA418.7bn (€638.3 million) last year, up 6 percent from 2014, and is forecast to rise by 4.7 percent to CFA438.9bn (€669.1 million) this year, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC).
In the wake of this year’s March terrorist attack at the town of Grand-Bassam, a major beach resort, the National Federation of Tourism called for the government to enhance security and provide tax exemptions for security equipment purchases for hotels and restaurants.
Abidjan International Airport, with about 1.5 million passengers per year, has already taken action to raise its security standards. The airport secured certification from the US Transport Security Administration in 2015 enabling direct US flights, following more than a decade of preparation – one of only a handful of sub-Saharan African airports to do so.
On the regulatory side, recent tax cuts – including removing the Treasury tax and national solidarity tax and halving the tourist tax levied on international flights and travellers at Abidjan International Airport – should also help reduce the fiscal burden for visitors. Furthermore, the roll out of the country’s e-visa offering, one of only nine such options in Africa, is set to further improve accessibility for international tourists.
Marketing and promotional efforts have also played a key role in the government’s efforts to boost visitor figures. In the last few months Côte d’Ivoire sent delegations to international tourism conferences including Top Resa in Paris, Internationale Tourismus-Börse in Berlin and Feria Internacional de Turismo in Madrid to increase visibility among tour operators and hospitality providers. Hosting major sporting events such as the Jeux de la Francophonie next year and the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations is also expected to boost the country’s visibility.
In contrast to a number of other emerging markets in the region, domestic tourism is the main driver of business and remains a significant contributor to sector growth. Domestic travel spending generated almost 90 percent of direct travel and tourism revenue last year, with over 700,000 domestic tourists, according to the WTTC.
However, sustaining this will require further improvements to transport infrastructure and services, which have been neglected in past years, limiting the ability of visitors from major urban centres to access beaches, rural areas and national parks. Efforts to improve and modernise transportation have been rolled out by the government as part of the National Development Plan 2016-20, which should have knock-on benefits for the tourism sector.
Capital is also being channelled into the hospitality sector, with CFA141bn (€215 million) worth of investments being spent on 238 new hotels between 2012 and 2014, bringing the total number of hotel facilities in the country to 2000, according to the MoT.
The bulk of the hotel investment is concentrated in Abidjan, which already accounted for more than 55 percent of tourism spending in 2015. French hotel group Accor has pledged €36.5 million to expand its facilities in Abidjan, while Carlson Rezidor recently invested €38 million in its newly minted Radisson Blu. Hilton is also participating in a €437 million project in downtown Abidjan, dubbed Little Manhattan, which includes a set of cultural and administrative buildings revolving around a five-star hotel.
In a bid to help expand the supply of qualified labour for the raft of new hotels, a new hospitality school in Grand Bassam – affiliated with the Swiss hospitality school Ecole Hôtelière de Genève School – will start providing training to students in September this year.