To attract companies to invest in the Gabonese tourism and hospitality industries, the government has put in place a range of financial incentives for firms operating in the sector, as well as having begun to sign concessions with companies for the establishment of hotels and resorts in national parks. Ambitious plans to upgrade the national road transport network, putting an end to the effective isolation of some parts of the country, as well as several new international airport projects in the pipeline, are also set to increase the attractiveness of the country as a tourism investment destination.
The tourism and hospitality industry benefits from a number of protections and incentives under Gabonese legislation. The Investment Charter ensures that firms operating in the sector have access to foreign currency and the ability to freely transfer currency within the Economic Community of Central African States (Communauté Économique et Monétaire des Etats de l’Afrique Centrale, CEMAC). The 2013 finance law boosted such incentives, exempting firms investing more than CFA800m (€1.2m) in the tourism and hotel sectors from import taxes and duties on machines and equipment. Investment projects in the sector are also exempt from corporate tax (or income tax in the case of individual investors) for their first five years of operation and pay tax on only half of their taxable income for the following five years.
Reducing the threshold for such incentives could encourage more activity at the smaller-scale end of the market. “There are incentives for establishing hotels, but they depend on the amount invested, and presently they mainly benefit large projects,” said local investor Fabienne Laissy, arguing that the authorities need to encourage the development of smaller projects as well.
Upgrading Transport Infrastructure
Efforts to improve local road transport infrastructure should also help to encourage investment in the sector, given the difficulties accessing some tourist sites and several national parks (see overview). Under “The Future with Confidence”, President Ali Bongo Ondimba’s agenda for social change, the government aims to build many roads that can be used throughout the year (including the rainy season, when some unpaved roads become impassable) and to open the whole of Gabon and end effective isolation of some areas by 2016.
Air transport infrastructure is also being improved. The authorities recently upgraded Libreville’s existing Léon M’ba International airport and plan to build a new airport for the capital at Andeme, 60 km away, with an annual capacity of 2m passengers. The facility is due to open in 2016. Port-Gentil’s airport is also being upgraded and turned into an international airport by lengthening its existing runway to be able to receive long-haul carriers, as well as the construction of a second strip and a new terminal, at an estimated cost of more than $100m. The project is to be completed in 2015. A second high-speed catamaran came back into service on the sea route between Libreville and PortGentil in March 2014, having been paused in 2010 for refurbishment. Efforts to boost the city’s transport links could have an important impact on tourism given that Port-Gentil is much closer to both Loango and Moukalaba-Doudou national parks than the capital.
The government is also working to bring more investment into the sector by awarding companies hospitality concessions in the national parks, arguably its greatest tourist attractions. Singapore-based Aman Resorts in January 2012 signed an agreement with the authorities for the opening of hotels and resorts in five of the parks, in addition to a hotel in Libreville, while in February 2013 the National Agency of National Parks (Agence Nationale des Parcs Nationaux, ANPN) awarded Sustainable Forestry Management (SFM) Safari Gabon a concession for the establishment of a circuit of luxury, sustainable safari lodges. These agreements may only be the beginning. “The agreements with these two high-profile international groups will attract interest from other investors and management companies,” Christian JohnsonOgoula, deputy technical director for the ANPN, said.
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