After years of neglect due to political instability, the tourism industry in Côte d’Ivoire is expected to enjoy a steady recovery as government efforts lead the rejuvenation process for the country’s hotel, transport and national attractions infrastructure. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), travel and tourism directly contributed around 2.4% of GDP in 2013, or CFA317.8bn (€476.7m). The WTTC forecast this figure to rise by 8.8% for 2014 and by a further 5% annually through 2024, to reach some CFA563bn (€844.5m) at constant 2013 prices.
The sector’s full impact, however, is much greater than this. Separate WTTC data that include indirect or “induced” effects – such as investment in new hotels, state outlays on promotion and security, and tourism-related domestic spending – show the sector’s total contribution at 4.8% of GDP in 2013, or CFA627.9bn (€941.9m). This is set to rise by 9% for 2014 and about 4.9% a year over the next decade, reaching CFA1.1trn (€1.7bn) in 2024. Out of total sector expenditure in 2013, just over half was direct spending, with the rest either indirect (31.3%) or induced (18.1%).
Data on the labour market paint a similar picture. In 2013 travel and tourism directly contributed about 104,000 jobs, or 2.1% of total employment, according to the WTTC. Add to this all positions indirectly supported by the industry, and the figure roughly doubles, to 211,500 jobs and 4.2% of the country’s workforce. The number of direct jobs was expected to rise by 3.8% for 2014 and 2% a year to 2024, compared to 4.2% and 1.9%, respectively, for total industry-supported jobs, according to WTTC estimations.
Business Over Pleasure
Strong trends in business tourism in 2014 are expected to sustain its dominance over leisure travel in the future. The country’s economic resurgence has enhanced the appeal of investment opportunities, drawing many businessmen to the economic capital of Abidjan. Infrastructure for leisure tourism, however, has yet to be fully restored following the decade-long civil war and has therefore experienced a slower recovery, though plans exist to revive national capacity (see analysis). According to the WTTC, business travel spending (inbound and domestic) accounted for 59.2% of direct travel and tourism in 2013, or CFA428.1bn (€642.2m), compared with 40.8% for leisure travel, or CFA295.5bn (€443.3m). Though statistics for 2014 were unavailable at the time of press, the WTTC projected that business travel spending would rise by 7.4% that year to CFA459.7bn (€690m) and then grow by 5.1% annually until 2024, when it will reach CFA756.7bn (€1.14bn). Due partly to its relatively slow recovery in 2012, leisure travel spending was expected to enjoy a stronger growth rate of 7.8% in 2014, amounting to CFA318.6bn (€477.9m), before slowing to an average 5.2% per year to reach CFA529.1bn (€793.7m) in 2024.
With landscapes varying from savannahs and tropical forests to beaches and mountains, Côte d’Ivoire is renowned for its rich diversity of natural habitants and offers impressive local assets for numerous tourism niches. In the country’s eight national parks, visitors can view an assortment of animals ranging from elephants, lions and buffalos at Comoé National Park to chimpanzees famous for their use of tools to make their food at Tai National Park. The 3300-sq-km Tai National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site containing 1300 plant species and more big mammal species than South America’s tropical forests, is expected to be a centrepiece of Côte d’Ivoire’s tourism industry. To promote the sustainability of the park, tourist visits are currently limited to around 1500 per year.
Cultural tourism is another of the country’s potential assets for attracting travellers. Côte d’Ivoire is home to more than 60 different language groups, many of whose musical, culinary, religious and artistic customs are found solely within its borders. “Côte d’Ivoire will never be a mass tourism attraction like some of its other African neighbours, but the beauty of its cultural tourism is extraordinary,” said Monique Philippe, director-general of Ivoire Tourisme Voyages, a local travel agency. “This mosaic of ethnic and cultural differences is an experience that we can present as a unique way to discover Africa.”
The importance of agriculture to the economy provides opportunities for a niche market in ecotourism, enabling visitors to explore the plantations of key exports such as coffee, bananas, cocoa, rubber and palm oil. Indeed, Roger Kacou, the minister of tourism since 2012, aspires to establish the cocoa sector at the heart of the nation’s tourism industry. A priority in government plans has thus been to rehabilitate rural transport infrastructure, to lay the groundwork for the ecotourism industry.
Côte d’Ivoire’s urban and historical sites are also major attractions. Abidjan, the “Paris of West Africa” and the country’s economic capital, boasts a wide variety of food, musical and cultural entertainment. In Yamoussoukro, the nation’s political and administrative centre, a replica of St Peter’s basilica in Rome remains an important site for religious visitors. Those eager to explore the country’s history can visit Grand Bassam, the French colonial capital during the late 1800s and a World Heritage site.
Impact Of Instability
Côte d’Ivoire was once a major West African tourist attraction due to its economic prosperity and unique cultural and physical diversity. Europeans in particular were drawn to the country, and by 1998, Côte d’Ivoire catered to 301,039 tourists annually, more than 73,000 of them from France alone. Following the eruption of the civil war soon after, however, tourism figures experienced a significant drop – particularly among French visitors during violent anti-French protests in 2004 – hitting a low of 182,000 in 2007.
After a decade of conflict, the country held presidential elections in 2010. Aspirations to rejuvenate the tourism sector were high, and officials envisioned proposals to establish tourist zones with tax breaks for foreign investors. An electoral dispute, however, led to a renewed outbreak of unrest, and plans for the tourism industry were once again put on hold. More than 10 years of fighting destroyed many of the country’s hotels, damaged roads and bridges, and degraded key attractions such as Grand Bassam. The conflict also hurt the viability of local tourism promoters; between 2010 and 2012 alone, many agencies left the sector, while prominent players such as the Société des Palaces de Cocody, the public organisation that oversees state-run hotels, suffered a 30-40% decline in revenues.
Under the guidance of the country’s tourism minister, Côte d’Ivoire hopes to increase visitor arrivals from below 300,000 tourists in 2012 to 500,000 in 2015 and 1m by 2020. Some sector observers question the industry’s ability to attract half a million visitors by 2015, citing the inefficient system of counting the number of tourists. Currently, tourists are defined as individuals who arrive at a national airport and remain in the country for over 48 hours, whether or not they stay in hotels, visit local sites or eat in restaurants. The number of annual tourists is therefore disputed; although the state tourism agency estimated there were 289,191 such visitors in 2012, several local agencies remain sceptical whether even 200,000 arrived during that year. The WTTC later forecast that arrivals would reach 393,000 for 2014.
Whatever the true figure, sector participants are confident in the growth potential of tourism. “We are optimistic about the future,” said Marie-Reine Koné, CEO of Afric Voyages, a local tour agency. “Even if we may not get 500,000 tourists by 2015, we must be ambitious, because this allows us to advance. We will reach this goal eventually, and even if we get 400,000 visitors, this would be progress.”
Efforts to attract tourists will be bolstered by the introduction of a new visa system. In the past, visas have been a key obstacle for visitors, who had to apply at Ivorian consulates and pay a €110 fee. The new rules have cut the visa fee by half and allow visitors to apply online and receive their visa upon arrival at Abidjan’s international airport. “We are very happy with the new changes for the visa,” Koné told OBG. “Tourists no longer have to go to a city where there is an Ivorian embassy, and the system is efficient and more affordable. Although we think it would be best not to have a visa at all, the new system will facilitate tourists coming instead of being a possible deterrent.”
Tourism is largely dominated by eight to 10 travel agencies that account for approximately 80% of industry sales. Within this category, major companies that coordinate with Air France include Afric Voyages, Ivoire Tourisme Voyages and SDV Voyages, while CTE Voyages et Tourisme and Capitale Voyages work with other airlines. Travel agencies associated with Air France generally serve multinational corporate clients, while those operating with other airlines usually cater to domestic business clients, hence competition in the formal sector is limited within each client type. Overall, around 40 travel agencies have been certified to sell airline tickets by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which accredits travel agencies.
To receive an IATA licence, companies must comply with a number of requirements, including the provision of a bank guarantee. Yet many operators are circumventing regulations and obtaining certifications illegally, an issue that agencies say has worsened since 2013. A lack of diligence on the part of IATA and other involved tourism organisations, they say, generates competition that is unfair to formal, tax-paying tourist outfits. Operators may, for example, illegally sell plane tickets – the chief source of income for formal agencies – or provide car rentals and small-scale sightseeing excursions without paying taxes, notably the 18% value-added tax on tourist activities. “For a country like Côte d’Ivoire that lost everything in terms of tourism on the international market, it is essential that we present the best image possible to visitors during the relaunch of our industry,” Philippe told OBG. “To do this we need competent, professional agencies representing us, because otherwise, tourists will form a bad impression and will not come, delaying our progress.”
New Tourism Code
The recent adoption of a new legal code for tourism, a process that has been under way since 2013, is set to address problems related to informal activities by defining the status of legal versus illegal operators. Approved unanimously by the Committee on Economic and Financial Affairs in early 2014, the code is the first of its kind to be implemented since independence in August 1960, and will create a legal and institutional framework to support the industry’s expansion. At the time of writing, corrections were being added before the text was to be presented to industry players, with the new code expected to go into effect in 2015.
“At the moment, people do not seem to understand the basics of the tourism industry – what it offers, whom it employs and where government investments are going,” Pascal Mahan, former director of local travel agency Lagoona Tours, told OBG. “The new code will educate people and show them that the tourism sector can offer a lot to the country in terms of sustainable and environmentally friendly economic growth and job opportunities.”
Appealing To New Markets
Of all spending on travel and tourism in the country during 2013, 84.1% came from domestic travel and 15.9% from foreign visitors, according to the WTTC. Receipts from international travellers are set to rise by 9.3% to CFA125.4bn (€188.1m) in 2014, averaging 4.7% growth over the next 10 years to reach CFA199bn (€298.5m) in 2024. Domestic travel spending, despite slower growth of 5.2% for 2014, is set to rise by a stronger 5.2% over the decade to CFA1.1trn (€1.6bn).
These figures highlight a major untapped market in the national tourism strategy – namely, the potential of local and regional tourists. In a country where more than 40% of the population lived under the national poverty line as of 2008, the latest year from which data was available from the World Bank, tourism still remains beyond the means of most Ivorians. But with expected increases in purchasing power, domestic tourism could play an ever-larger role in the industry’s expansion. “Tourism can only develop with the establishment of a real local tourism market, whether it’s Ivorians visiting other parts of the country or people from the region,” said Koné. “Currently, most Ivorians prefer to travel to Europe for vacation – particularly France – but as we educate the population about local attractions, we will be able to realise our potential.”
Other major markets with potential are China and Japan, particularly for business tourism, as well as regional and “south-to-south” tourism between Africa and Latin American countries, notably Brazil.
Improvements in transport infrastructure are under way to facilitate travel to major tourist destinations. A number of road projects have been completed, including a 140-km highway connecting the south to Yamoussoukro.
Also finished in December 2014 was the construction of a third bridge over the Ebrié Lagoon in Abidjan’s Cocody district, easing traffic circulation through the city and to hotels in Cocody. “Progress has certainly been made since 2013; roads that were once impassable are now much more accessible,” said Philippe. “What would be great is to establish circuits throughout parts of our territory for tourists, from the south to the north, or perhaps from the central-north of the country to the east.” Though big strides have been made in re-establishing law and order across the territory, instability continues along certain routes in the western regions, and travel is not recommended past 8pm.
Up In The Air
Expansions are also scheduled for the international airport in Abidjan, including a new business class lounge (see Transport chapter). The city’s airport has been identified as one of the most expensive in the world for airline operators due partly to high airport taxes. Negotiations are ongoing between transport officials and ministers to re-examine taxes on air travel in order to make Abidjan more competitive for air traffic, though details were not available at the time of writing. “Côte d’Ivoire must look at the policies of major tourist destinations like Morocco, Senegal and South Africa and consider how they implement taxes on air travel,” Mahan told OBG. “We want to make Abidjan a regional hub and there is great potential for this as the country reclaims its economic standing in the region, but air travel must become cheaper and more flexible. After a review of the taxes in place, tickets will become much more accessible for travellers.”
Authorities are also discussing the benefits of liberalising Ivorian air space to allow new airlines into the market. Improved infrastructure and renewed interest in business and leisure tourism has already enticed a number of new carriers to set up operations in Côte d’Ivoire. This is expected to create more of the competition needed in the aviation sector to lower the prices of plane tickets. Recent arrivals include Turkish Airlines and Brussels Airlines, while other popular air operators with a longer history in the market include Air France and Royal Air Maroc.
During the years of political unrest, Air France held a monopoly over the air travel market and was able to dictate airfares. However, the arrival of Corsair, France’s second-largest carrier, has considerably improved the affordability of tickets by obliging Air France to reconsider its pricing strategy.
Although important gains have been made to improve security in remote regions of the country, operators remain concerned about the potential for renewed strife in the run-up to the 2015 presidential elections. State efforts at reconciliation continue, but many fear they are not proceeding at the pace needed to facilitate a peaceful transition. “Things have been getting better in tourism, but the elections are still setting everyone on edge,” said Philippe. “As a result, despite the renewed interest of tour operators in Côte d’Ivoire, investors are wary of funding projects.”
Despite concerns about its political future, Côte d’Ivoire is laying the foundations for a healthy recovery in the tourism industry. Numerous transport and hotel projects currently under way are expected to boost national capacity and help connect travellers to attractions throughout the country (see analysis). Meanwhile, the introduction of the new tourism code in 2015 will strengthen the position of formal travel agencies and reduce the operations of informal entities. “The actual context of development is positive,” said Koné. “With the new structures to be adopted by the Ministry of Tourism, the industry will now move out of the informal realm into a sector that is both well structured and well educated in the needs and norms of a successful tourism industry.” In terms of boosting visitor arrivals, the significant reduction in the price for tourist visas is likely to have a positive effect, as is the shift to the online visa application system.
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