Bouncing back: The government is eyeing recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic using a long-term, multi-pronged strategy

Promoting domestic tourism was identified as a key area of potential growth for Côte d’Ivoire’s tourism sector when the government first launched Sublime Côte d’Ivoire in 2018 and has since become an even more pressing priority. Travel restrictions imposed due to the Covid-19 pandemic have kept international visitors away. Hotel room occupancy at iconic tourist resorts averages less than 40%, and the government is hoping that local tourists can fill this gap. Long-term projects include national parks, resorts, hotels and a national airline targeted at the local and regional markets. While these come to fruition, the government is also prioritising local festivals and events as a launching pad for a thriving domestic tourism industry.

Growth Drivers

The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) has identified Côte d’Ivoire as one of Africa’s strongest markets for domestic tourism spending. Historically, local tourists have been the country’s dominant source of tourism receipts, accounting for 89% of spending compared to 11% for international visitors. Local travellers injected as much as $2bn into the tourism sector prior to the pandemic.

In terms of domestic trips, two-thirds are made for leisure, with spiritual reasons, shopping and family being the main drivers of travel. Abidjan is the most popular destination, followed by Assinie and Yamoussoukro. The WTTC previously forecast that leisure spending by both domestic and international tourists would more than double in 2018-29, from CFA608.2bn ($1bn) to CFA1.3trn ($2.2bn). However, the broader impact of Covid-19 on this sector is expected to dampen growth.

The Ministry of Tourism (MoT) has prioritised the development of domestic tourism as one of its four key pillars. Specifically, it wants to establish the country as an entertainment destination by targeting the growing middle class and visitors from neighbouring countries. It hopes to create 100,000 jobs, increase tourism revenue by 50%, and attract 1.8m domestic and subregional visitors by 2025. To achieve this, it has created three plans of action. The first seeks to develop accessible and affordable tourism options for locals, such as budget or mid-priced hotels. The second is to establish Abidjan as the flagship cultural, amusement and shopping destination in the subregion. Lastly, the MoT wants the country to once again become the capital of leisure tourism in the region.

As part of this strategy, the government has earmarked two projects to attract local and regional tourists to beaches and cities. Belle Plages pour Tous (Beautiful Beaches for All) focuses on coastal regions and aims to develop, clean and improve security on more than 20 km of beachfront in Grand-Bassam, Assinie, Jacqueville and Abidjan. Initially set to start in 2019, the project experienced several delays but is now back on track and has been piloted in Grand-Bassam. In addition to prioritising environmental protection, the project will drive job growth and economic activity through the construction of leisure parks and hotels.

AkwabaPark, the other key project, is a 100-ha, CFA80bn ($132.3m) amusement park which is set to be the largest in West Africa. The site is strategically located in Port-Bouët, just outside Abidjan and next to the international airport. The government hopes that, when complete, the entertainment complex comprising a shopping mall, amusement park and hotels will attract more than 1m tourists per year.

Launching Pad

The government is also looking for ways to promote festivals and heritage routes targeted at domestic travellers. In September 2021 the MoT organised six tourism routes as part of a twoweek festival called Ivorian Tourist Fortnight. On each route, mobile caravans of artists, musicians, chefs, dancers and other tourism professionals treated visitors and spectators to different aspects of the country’s diverse attractions, including its cultural and religious heritage, natural beauty, entertainment and gastronomy. Following its success, the government plans to stage Ivorian Tourist Fortnight as an annual event.