The focus on business tourism has left Côte d’Ivoire's leisure tourism underdeveloped, despite its potential

 

Côte d’Ivoire’s civil war, which ended in 2011, left the tourism sector neglected and much of its infrastructure damaged. However, with the end of the crisis and economic growth averaging 8% since 2012, tourism in the country has begun its resurgence. The Ivorian government made tourism a priority in its National Development Plan 2016-20, and wants to make it one of the top-three contributors to GDP by 2020, with the goal of attracting up to 5m tourists by 2025.

Structure & Oversight

Tourism in Côte d’Ivoire comprises a diversity of actors such as hotels, restaurants, travel agents, tour operators and cultural centres. The Ministry of Tourism oversees the sector and the Tourism Code regulates it. Several ministries are involved in the tourism policy such as the Ministry of Transport, the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Economic Infrastructure, and the Ministry of Environment, Water Resources and Forests. Under these, there are 12 Tourism Regional Directorates in charge of implementing the tourism policy at the regional level, supported by 20 departmental directorates.

The National Tourism Board implements the tourism government policy and promotes the country as a destination. There are 11 foreign representative agencies promoting the Ivorian destination abroad in China, Germany, Spain, Italy, Canada, France, South Africa, Morocco, Brazil, the US and Qatar. The National Federation of Tourism is also aimed at gathering tourism professionals working across the country. It notably defends the interests of its members, contributes to the structuring of the sector’s legal framework and works on enhancing tourism professionals training.

Tourist Areas

The National Tourism Board divides Côte d’Ivoire into 12 main tourist areas: the Indénié-Djuablin Region in the south-east, which is home to cultural attractions such as the Ignames festival and natural sights such as the hippopotami of Aniassué; the Bandama Valley Region, which notably comprises the N’Zi River Lodge, a fauna reserve spanning 8000 ha; the Haut-Sassandra Marahoué Region, home to Marahoué National Park and a handicrafts centre; the Kabadougou Region, home to the Samatiguila religious site; the Poro Region rich in culture and handicrafts; the San Pedro Region, which is popular for its seaside tourism with its numerous beaches; the Gontougo Region, which holds high potential for cultural tourism; the Abidjan Autonomous District and the region of the great bridges, which is both a business hub and also suitable for leisure tourism with sites such as Billionaires Bay and Banco National Park; the Tonkpi Region, comprised of different mountainous areas and two ecoregions – the Guinean Forest of West Africa and the West Sudanese Lowland Savanna; the Worodougou Region, home to Sangbé National Park; the Agnéby-Tiassa Region, which harbours the former colonial capital Grand-Bassam, now a seaside town listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site; and the Yamoussoukro Autonomous District, where one can notably visit the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace and the wildlife park of Abokouamékro, and see the Baule masked dancers of the Goli society in the town of Kondeyaokro.

Additionally, there are 14 protected areas across the country comprised of six natural reserves and eight national parks. These include the reserves of Haut Bandama, Abokouamékro, Mont Nimba, Lamto, Dahliafleur and N’Zo; and Azagny National Park; Banco National Park; Comoé National Park, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site and biosphere reserve; Taï National Park, also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site and biosphere reserve, and one of the last remaining primary rainforests in West Africa; Marahoué National Park; Mont Peko National Park; Mont Songbé National Park; and Iles Ehotiles National Park.

Policy

In May 2018 Côte d’Ivoire unveiled its tourism development strategy for the 2018-25 period – known as Sublime Côte d’Ivoire – comprised of nine projects and expected to mobilise CFA3.2trn (€4.8bn) in funding. With a focus on cultural tourism, the strategy aims at making tourism one of the top-three contributors to the economy, with the goal of contributing 7-8% to GDP and employing 600,000 people. According to the “Africa Tourism Monitor 2018” report published by the African Development Bank, the top-five African countries for international tourists arrivals in 2016 were Morocco, South Africa, Tunisia, Egypt and Zimbabwe. Côte d’Ivoire aspires to move up to the fifth place of this ranking and to attract between 4.2m and 5m tourists by 2025.

To finance this ambition, in January 2018 Siandou Fofana, the minister of tourism, announced the creation of two investment funds: a private fund of CFA500bn (€750m) dedicated to tourism infrastructure and a sovereign fund of CFA2.5trn (€3.6bn), which will mainly serve as a guarantee of borrowings.

Contribution to GDP & Employment

According to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), the direct contribution of tourism to GDP increased from 2.2% in 2014 to 3.9% in 2017, while its total contribution to GDP jumped from 4.4% in 2014 to 8.3% in 2017. Furthermore, the sector is driven by business tourism, which represented 70.2% of travel and tourism GDP in 2017, while leisure spending accounted for 29.8%. Moreover, business travel spending was forecast to increase by 7.7% in 2018 and 5.9% by 2028. Leisure spending is also on a growth path, and was expected to rise by 6.1% in 2018 and 5.6% by 2028. International visitors receipts accounted for 8.1% of direct travel and tourism GDP, while domestic spending accounted for 91.9% in 2017, suggesting the international tourism market is left largely untapped.

Regarding employment, the WTTC recorded 189,000 jobs directly supported by the tourism sector and a total contribution, directly and indirectly, of 412,000 jobs in 2017, compared to 93,500 and 189,500 in 2014, respectively. “On average the execution of a trip involves 40 providers spread over the itinerary,” Mamadou Bamba, managing director of Evasion en Côte d’Ivoire, a local tour operator, told OBG. Meanwhile, travel and tourism investment in 2017 equalled CFA106.8bn (€160.2m), 2.6% of total investment. Sector investment was forecast to rise by 8.3% in 2018 to CFA115.7bn (€173.6m).

Growth

The sector showed resilience following a terrorist incident at Grand-Bassam in 2016 as the number of international tourists arrivals grew by 13.7% in 2017. Côte d’Ivoire ranked 109th out of 136 countries in the 2017 World Economic Forum Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index. According to this index, Côte d’Ivoire is the second-most competitive country in travel and tourism in the West Africa region after Cape Verde. The index emphasised a number of improvements for the sector including visa liberalisation, training, safety and security, and technology. It also noted that progress still has to be made in tourism offerings, air transport, health provision, infrastructure, labour training and pricing. Price competitiveness was indeed lowered by a hike in airport taxes in 2018, knowing that these taxes already accounted for a significant amount of the ticket price.

Visitor Numbers

The number of international tourist arrivals has significantly increased since the end of the civil war in 2011. International visitor numbers went from 380,000 in 2013 to 1.8m in 2017. Under the Sublime Côte d’Ivoire initiative, the country aims to attract 4.2-5m tourists annually by 2025. The establishment of an e-visa system, which enables online applications and an answer within 48 hours, has eased the procedures of entry, making it increasingly more attractive to international visitors. Domestic tourists also take up a large share of total tourist numbers, accounting for 1.6m in 2017, according to online travel agency Jumia Travel.

Marketing

Côte d’Ivoire’s promotion of its tourism industry abroad is done through the presence of 11 global representative offices and by participating at international tourism fairs. For example, the National Tourism Board participated at IFTM Top Resa in Paris in September 2018 and at the Beijing International Tourism Expo in June 2018. The country has particularly focused on the Chinese tourist market, as demonstrated by its annual participation since 2014 in the Beijing International Tourism Expo. These promotion efforts yielded results as Côte d’Ivoire gained eligibility as an Approved Destination Status, an arrangement between the Chinese government and another country that allows Chinese holiday travellers to visit a country as part of a tour group.

In 2018 Côte d’Ivoire took a further step in wooing the Chinese market with the organisation of a business-to-business event for Chinese tourism professionals in which six tour-operators and five journalists were sent to tour the country on different circuits. Targeting the Chinese market is strategic for the Ivorian tourism industry as China is the largest tourist source market in the world, with 130m Chinese tourists travelling in 2017, in addition to being the top spenders – at $258bn in 2017. The National Tourist Board also signed an agreement with the public Chinese tour operator Beijing China Travel Service to sell Ivorian tourism packages online in 2017. E-tourism is indeed a key tool of the sector’s development for international visitors, but also for domestic tourism, given the growing internet penetration rates in Côte d’Ivoire (see ICT chapter).

Cultural Tourism

Home to 60 different ethnicities, Côte d’Ivoire is rich in culture and traditions. Different cultural year-round events and festivities have been developed to that end to showcase the country’s riches in terms of tradition, gastronomy, fashion and music, among others. Examples include the Ignames, Moundo and Alloco festivals. In December 2017 Zaouli, a traditional music and dance of the Guro people involving masks, was included in UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity List. Cultural tourism is also seen by the government as a strategic pillar of its Sublime Côte d’Ivoire vision, with plans to devise new and enhancing existing tours such the “Kings Route”, the “Elephants Route” and the “Slaves Route”, discovering different aspects of the country’s history and nature. Launched in July 2017 the Slaves Route, for instance, explores former places or sites connected to the slave trade such as the village of Kanga-Gnianzé.

Challenges

The tourism sector in Côte d’Ivoire faces several challenges, especially inside the country. First, poor road networks do not connect with the country’s interior, and prevent access to locations with tourism potential, with 92.1% of the country’s total road network unpaved. “We struggle to promote Côte d’Ivoire tourism potential because of the bad state of the road network. It is difficult to improve and diversify the tourism offer, the beautiful sites and hotels, natural reserves and parks, when access is limited,” Isabelle Segbenou, head of the tourism department of AFRIC Voyages, a local travel agency, told OBG. “We have domestic flights, though they remain too expensive for most tourists,” Segbenou added. Segbenou cites the example of the Bay of Sirens in Grand-Béréby, among other seaside and tourist places, which have not had the expected success because of a lack of access.

The lack of health infrastructure is another hurdle, especially when the nation’s roads do not allow easy connection to health clinics. “We don’t really have the hospitals that can meet needs in different geographical zones; we don’t have hospitals near tourist structures,” Segbenou told OBG. She also noted security challenges hampering tourism. “We are still sometimes classified as a red or orange zone, which impacts tourism tremendously.”

Moreover, human resources have been a challenge, as it is hard to find trained staff in line with international standards. Training is crucial to offer quality services and to also better understand source markets. To counter this, the government hosted the International Tourism Fair of Abidjan (Salon International du Tourisme d’Abidjan, SITA), which took place in April and May 2018, and allows participants to promote their destinations and understand market developments. Additionally, the Paris Île-de-France Regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry committed to training participants at the upcoming SITA in April 2019.

Transport Upgrades

Côte d’Ivoire has 27 airports of which seven have paved runways. The Félix Houphouët Boigny International Airport in Abidjan is currently the country’s sole international airport, and in 2017 welcomed some 2.07m passengers. Set to boost air connectivity is the direct New York-Abidjan flight route, inaugurated in May 2018, and an extension and modernisation of the Félix Houphouët Boigny International Airport, which started in 2017. The latter is expected to have a capacity of 5m passengers by 2022 and 10m by 2025. A new business terminal to be managed by Jetex, a Dubai-based business aviation services company, is also planned to open in May 2019. This modernisation is part of the construction of a mixed-use leisure and tourism development, known as Aérocité, or airport city. Launched in 2013, it aims to strengthen Abidjan as a business tourism destination. Valued at CFA1trn (€1.5bn), it will span 3700 ha and be strategically located between the Félix Houphouët Boigny International Airport and Abidjan’s Plateau, the city’s central business district. It will include infrastructure for leisure and business visitors such as hotel resorts, a business centre, an exhibition centre and a shopping centre, among others. This project forms part of the government objective of making Abidjan a leading city in the West African region.

Additionally, the construction of the Abidjan Metro system, which started in December 2017, is also set to further boost Abidjan’s attractiveness. The government also plans to build a second international airport in the south-western port town of San Pedro. Estimated to cost CFA740bn (€1.1bn), the project includes the construction of supporting hotels, industries, shopping centres and residences. Eventually, the government plans to upgrade airfields inside the country and increase services by national flag carrier Air Côte d’Ivoire (ACI) to the latter. ACI currently serves five inland destinations: Bouaké, San Pedro, Man, Odienné and Korhogo. It witnessed a significant increase in passengers travelling on its domestic network, from 3300 in 2014 to 85,000 in 2017.

Flight Prices

Beyond connectivity, costs for flying in and out of the country remain fairly expensive for international tourists. This is indeed also true for the domestic tourists, as high air connections prices hamper leisure tourism development. “We have domestic flights but they remain too expensive for holidaymakers,” Segbenou told OBG. Acknowledging this hurdle, Fofana, the minister of tourism, highlighted to local media in January 2018 the importance of deregulating the airspace, and enabling low-cost carriers to access Côte d’Ivoire in order to make the country a more competitive tourist destination.

Hotels

The hotel industry in Côte d’Ivoire has expanded rapidly in recent years. “The most recent investments in the sector were in hospitality. Many hotels and hotel chains have been constructed, especially in Abidjan,” Segbenou told OBG.

According to Jumia’s “Hospitality Report Côte d’ Ivoire 2018”, the number of hotels jumped from 2041 in 2016 to 2531 in 2017, with most hotels located in Abidjan (1220). San Pedro ranks second with 367 hotels. There are 4000-4500 rooms in Abidjan, of which 2000 are four- or five-star establishments.

The accelerated influx since 2016 of global hotel chains such as Radisson Blu, Azalaï and Seen Hôtel illustrate a growing interest of international hospitality players in the Ivorian hospitality market. Several hotel projects are under way. Radisson Hospitality, for instance, announced two new hotels in 2018: the 152-room Radisson Hotel and Apartments Abidjan Plateau, which is expected to open in 2021, and will notably comprise a conference centre set to be the largest conference space in Abidjan with a surface area of over 1000 sq metres; and a Radisson Red of 165 rooms also scheduled to open in 2021. Other notable projects include the Mövenpick Hotel Abidjan (160 rooms), scheduled to open in 2020; the Noom (257 rooms), valued at CFA29bn (€43.5m), which will comprise 800 sq metres of spaces dedicated to meetings and events, was announced by the Spanish Mangalis Hotel Group and opened 2018; Accor, which has five hotels in Abidjan, announced a Novotel hotel with 200 rooms and an Adagio apparent-hotel with 110 apartments, due to be completed in 2020.

Major Events

For now, however, most hotel projects that target business tourists are located in Abidjan. These projects are also a response to the occasional lack of hospitality capacity when major events take place, such as the 2017 Jeux de la Francophonie – the multi-sport and culture event carried out every four years by Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, which gathered more than 4000 participants from across 70 countries – and the African Union-European Union Summit.

Both events were reported by the press to have witnessed a shortage of hotel rooms. Thus, investments are planned in anticipation of other future major events, such as the Africa Cup of Nation, which will be hosted by Côte d’Ivoire in 2021.

Chinese investors are showing interest in the Ivorian hotel industry. Yunnan Construction and Investment Holding Group, for instance, signed a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Tourism in October 2018 to build, among others, a 1000-room hotel in Abidjan-Bingerville valued at CFA150bn (€225m), and three hotels in San Pedro, Bouaké and Korohgo at a total investment of CFA75bn (€112.5m).

MICE

According to Jumia’s “Hospitality Report Côte d’Ivoire 2018”, Côte d’Ivoire ranks third in Africa for business tourism, behind Nigeria and Morocco. Business spending accounted for 70.2% of direct travel and tourism GDP in 2017, according to the WTTC. “Today it is mainly meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions tourism that is driving sector growth, with almost everything centralised in Abidjan,” Segbenou told OBG. The hotel occupancy rate corroborates this phenomenon as it is much higher in Abidjan than in the rest of the country – 70% in Abidjan against 54% in total. Indeed, Abidjan is a cosmopolitan business centre, and the potential today seems to be to turn business tourism into leisure tourism. “Visitors usually come for four to five days, not for more than a week, and usually dedicate no more than half to a full-day to leisure tourism,” Segbenou added.

Domestic Travel

The growing middle class is expected to drive demand for tourism in Côte d’ Ivoire going forward. According to Jumia, in 2018, 67% of national tourists were leisure tourists, with religious pilgrimage being one of the main reasons of travelling. In total, domestic tourists increased by 13.3% between 2016 and 2017, jumping from 1.5m to 1.7m. Abidjan was the most popular destination, followed by Assinie (12%) and Yamoussoukro (10%).

Diversification Plans

According to Jumia’s “Hospitality Report Côte d’Ivoire 2018”, Abidjan ranked 12th in Africa for leisure tourism – with leisure spending accounting for 29.8% of direct travel and tourism GDP in 2017, according to the WTTC. With considerable natural and cultural assets, there is significant growth potential for the sector. To that end, several leisure projects set to diversify the tourism sector’s offering and attract leisure tourists are under way, such as the Akwaba Park construction, which started in July 2018 in Port-Bouët. Valued at $141.6m, the facility will span over 100 ha, becoming the biggest amusement park in West Africa. In addition to this, Côte d’Ivoire has numerous beaches and is crossed by a lagoon. “We have amazing seaside places of major interest, which are well preserved west of Abidjan, but they are difficult to access. Indeed, travel times are multiplied by three because of the bad state of the roads,” Bamba told OBG. “There is huge potential and much more to be done.”

Testament to the potential of seaside tourism unlocked by enhanced accessibility is the surge in visitors to Jacqueville following the construction of the Philippe Grégoire Yacé bridge, inaugurated in March 2015. Located 60 km from Abidjan, Jacqueville is a financially accessible holiday spot for the expanding Ivorian middle class. Formerly only accessible via a ferry, the mayor, Joachim Beugré, reported to local press in January 2018 that the city now welcomed thousands of visitors each weekend.

Outlook

Numbers are growing in Côte d’Ivoire’s tourism industry with a government policy supporting its development. Focused today on business tourism and centralised in Abidjan, the leisure tourism segment remains largely untapped despite considerable potential. The lack of transport and health infrastructure, along with the insecurity in some regions, has hampered this development.

The silver lining is that Côte d’Ivoire remains untouched by mass tourism, which could give it a unique advantage compared to other African destinations, and enhance its attractiveness for tourists looking for authentic and preserved places. In this regard, Côte d’Ivoire is particularly conducive to niche tourism segments such as ecotourism.

The improvement of connectivity to the country’s interior, especially via the rehabilitation and construction of a quality road network and additional health infrastructure, is a prerequisite to the development of leisure tourism outside the business district of Abidjan.

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The Report: Côte d'Ivoire 2019

Tourism chapter from The Report: Côte d'Ivoire 2019

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