What is the potential of leisure tourism in Côte d'Ivoire?

 

With the return of peace and stability, Côte d’Ivoire’s tourism sector has expanded since 2011. High economic growth beginning in 2012 and the government’s efforts to make Abidjan a destination for regional conferences have allowed business tourism to flourish, resulting in rapid development of the hotel industry. However, leisure tourism continues to lag somewhat behind, mainly due to relatively poor infrastructure and a perceived lack of offerings. Although the spread of Covid-19 and subsequent global travel restrictions are impacting tourism in Côte d’Ivoire and the rest of the world, the potential for long-term growth – particularly in regard to leisure tourism – remains positive.

Structure & Oversight

The tourism sector in Côte d’Ivoire is overseen by the Ministry of Tourism and regulated by the Tourism Code. The National Tourism Board implements the government’s tourism policy and promotes the country as a destination. There are 12 Tourism Regional Directorates, which are supported by 20 departmental directorates. There are 11 foreign representative agencies promoting Côte d’Ivoire abroad, located in China, Germany, Spain, Italy, Canada, France, South Africa, Morocco, Brazil, the US and Qatar.

The National Federation of Tourism, for its part, aims to bring together tourism professionals across the country. It defends the interests of its members, contributes to structuring the sector’s legal framework and works to enhance professional training.

Tourism Sites

The National Tourism Board divides Côte d’Ivoire into 12 regional tourist areas: the Indénié-Djuablin Region in the south-east, which is home to cultural attractions such as the Ignames festival and natural sights like the hippopotami of Aniassué; the Bandama Valley Region, which 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, where the Samatiguila religious site is located; the Poro Region, rich in culture and handicrafts; the San Pedro Region, which is a popular seaside retreat; the Gontougo Region, as it holds high potential for cultural tourism; the Abidjan Autonomous District, a business centre and leisure tourism area, with sites such as Billionaires Bay and Banco National Park; the Tonkpi Region, comprised of mountainous areas and two ecoregions, the Guinean Forest of West Africa and the West Sudanese Lowland Savanna; the Worodougou Region, home to Mont Sângbé National Park; the Agnéby-Tiassa Region, which harbours the former colonial capital Grand-Bassam, now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site; and the Yamoussoukro Autonomous District, where travellers can visit the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace and the protected wildlife park Abokouamékro, and see the Baoulé masked dancers of the Goli society in the town of Kondeyaokro.

Protected Areas

There are 14 protected areas across the country, six of which are nature reserves and eight are national parks. The former group comprises the reserves of Haut Bandama, Abokouamékro, Mont Nimba, Lamto, Dahliafleur and N’Zo. The latter includes Azagny National Park; Banco National Park; Comoé National Park, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site and biosphere reserve; Taï National Park, which is 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 Sângbé National Park; and Iles Ehotiles National Park.

Performance & Size

According to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), the tourism sector’s direct contribution to GDP in Côte d’Ivoire was expected to remain at 4.8% in 2019, unchanged from 2018 and 2017 levels, but up from 4.1% in 2014 and 3.2% in 2012. When including indirect revenue, the sector’s contribution to GDP jumped from 6.4% in 2012 to around 10% in 2019.

The sector is driven by business tourism, which represented 72% of travel and tourism spend in 2017, while leisure spending accounted for the remaining 28%. At the time of writing, the WTTC and other organisations were revising their projections for the year as the economic effects of Covid-19 remain uncertain.

Business travel spending was forecast to increase by 7.6% in 2019. The WTTC forecast spending growth slowing to 1% in 2020, largely due to the uncertainty that will come with elections that year, and then rising to 4-5% per year between 2022 and 2029. However, the spread of Covid-19 is likely to have a subduing effect on spending. Leisure spending, however, was expected to grow by 5.9% in 2019. In 2018 international visitor receipts accounted for 13% of direct travel and tourism GDP, while domestic spending accounted for 87%.

WTTC data shows that some 705,700 jobs – of which 324,800 are direct tourism jobs – were provided by the sector in 2018, equal to 8.8% of total employment and up from 561,100 jobs in 2014. The total number of jobs in the sector is expected to increase to 723,600 in 2019 and 824,700 in 2029. Capital investment in the sector, meanwhile, was forecast to increase by 2.9% in 2019 to CFA126.6bn ($217.6m), up from CFA121.1bn ($208.2m) in 2018 and CFA92.5bn ($159m) in 2015.

Visitors

The number of international tourist arrivals has significantly increased since the end of the political crisis in 2011. There were 1.8m international visitors in 2017, according to the World Bank’s most recent data, up from 1.44m in 2015 and just 300,000 in 2012. “It is clear that there are more tourists coming in, but the sector is still largely underdeveloped. We could achieve much more,” Mamadou Bamba, managing director of Evasion en Côte d’Ivoire, a local tour operator, told OBG.

Côte d’Ivoire ranked 109th out of 136 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index 2017. It rose eight places from the 2015 ranking, in large part because of the implementation of a visa liberalisation policy that established an e-visa system with online applications. The move has eased the procedures of entry, making the country more attractive to international visitors. In the 2019 edition of the index Côte d’Ivoire dropped 10 positions to rank 119th out of 140 countries, with its fall attributed to deteriorating road and port infrastructure. However, the country was the most improved in the health and hygiene, and human resources and labour market categories within sub-Saharan Africa.

French nationals accounted for 31% of inbound arrivals in 2018, followed by residents of Burkina Faso (9%), Senegal (8%), the US (8%) and Mali (7%). According to the “Hospitality Report Côte d’Ivoire 2018” by Jumia Travel, around 1.7m domestic tourists were recorded out of a total 3.5m visitors in 2017.

New Strategy

In September 2018 the government launched its new tourism development strategy for the 2018-25 period. The policy, known as Sublime Côte d’Ivoire, comprises nine flagship reforms and is expected to cost CFA3.2trn ($5.5bn). It aims to make tourism one of the top-three drivers of the economy through contributing 7-8% to GDP and directly employing some 600,000 people by 2025. The scheme aims to strengthen the tourism code, upgrade transport and infrastructure, develop new attractions and improve administrative procedures. A pipeline of tourism projects will be created and the sector’s one-stop shop – where investors can get a business up and running – is to be redesigned. The authorities also want to improve security and health care, develop the aviation industry and boost professional training. The goal is to attract 4.2m to 5m tourists per year by 2025 – up from 3.5m in 2017 – and make Côte d’Ivoire Africa’s fifth-most popular tourism destination.

The state has pledged to mobilise CFA1.5trn ($2.6bn) for the scheme, almost half of its estimated cost of $5.8bn. Some of the spending is already part of the country’s National Development Plan 2016-20, which includes the laying and rehabilitating of 1500 km of roads. Morocco’s Attijariwafa Bank will help drive fundraising, while two investment funds will be established: a private fund of CFA500bn ($859.5m) dedicated to tourism infrastructure and a sovereign fund of CFA2.5trn ($4.3bn) that will mainly serve as a guarantee of borrowings. The government is also looking to the African Development Bank for possible funding. Under the policy, the state plans to release 6500 ha of land to be used for tourism projects. Fofana announced additional funding for the strategy in late 2019 when $6.4bn was secured during a roundtable in Germany and $5bn raised in Dubai. The government also signed 12 memoranda of understanding (MoU) with various investors.

Another example of the Ivorian state’s decision to prioritise tourism came in February 2020, when Abidjan held the first World Tourism Organisation global investment forum in Africa. The landmark event brought together tourism ministers from across the continent to discuss unlocking the potential of investment for driving sustainable growth and development.

Business Tourism

Côte d’Ivoire ranks third on the continent for business tourism, behind Nigeria in first place and Morocco in second. Business travel accounts for the largest share of tourist spending, stemming from the country’s efforts to position itself as a centre for regional conferences and exhibitions after the end of the political crisis in 2011. Since then Côte d’Ivoire has hosted events such as the Africa CEO Forum in 2018 and the African Union-EU Summit in 2017. The country welcomed around 774,000 business travellers in 2018, accounting for 52% of the sector’s receipts, according to Fofana. The government’s goal is to bring this number up to 1.5m travellers per year by 2025. To support this type of tourism, the Abidjan Business City project – one component of the Sublime Côte d’Ivoire policy – is set to see a 5000-seat exhibition centre built near Abidjan’s airport. The WTTC forecast that business tourism spending in the country will increase to nearly CFA3trn ($5.2bn) in 2029, almost double the CFA1.5trn ($2.6bn) recorded in 2018.

Hotel Infrastructure

As business tourism continues to rise, Côte d’Ivoire’s hotel industry has also expanded, with the number of hotels jumping from 2041 in 2016 to 2531 in 2017, with half of them located in Abidjan. There has been rising interest from international hospitality players in the Ivorian market, particularly in the commercial capital. Sweden’s Radisson Hotel Group, Mali-based Azalaï Hotels and Spain’s Mangalis Hotel Group have opened units in recent years. Radisson is building two more hotels in Abidjan, while Mangalis has a 24-floor hotel with 257 rooms currently under construction. Accor, which had five hotels under various brands in Abidjan as of 2019, has at least three projects for new hotels in the city. China’s Yunnan Construction and Investment Holding Group, for its part, signed an MoU with the Ministry of Tourism in October 2018 to build a 1000-room hotel in Abidjan-Bingerville for CFA150bn ($257.9m), and three smaller hotels in San Pedro, Bouake and Korohgo for a total investment of CFA75bn ($128.9m).

These projects are a response to the occasional lack of capacity during major events. In 2017 the Jeux de la Francophonie and the African Union-EU Summit both witnessed a shortage of hotel rooms. “Our biggest challenge is to build hotels. The number of rooms is still not sufficient, but with all these large hotels under construction, the issue is being addressed,” Marcel Gougou Kouadio, chairman of the board of directors of the Ivorian Network for Tourism and Agro-tourism, told OBG (see analysis).

Airports

Côte d’Ivoire has 27 airports, of which seven have paved runways. The Félix Houphouët-Boigny International Airport in Abidjan is the country’s sole international airport. In 2017 the facility exceeded the 2m-passenger threshold, and in 2018 it welcomed some 2.2m passengers. Various actions are under way to boost the number of passengers at the gateway. In May 2018 Ethiopian Airlines inaugurated the direct Abidjan-New York flight, and in the summer of 2020 an Abidjan-Washington DC route was planned to open; however, commencement of the route may be pushed back if international travel restrictions stay in place. The Abidjan airport is also being expanded and modernised, with the goal to boost its capacity to 8m-10m arriving passengers by 2025 (see Transport chapter).

Leisure Tourism

In 2017 around 52% of international travellers came to Côte d’Ivoire for leisure purposes and 48% for business purposes. In terms of domestic trips, 67% that year were made for leisure, with spiritual reasons, shopping and family being the main drivers of travel. The WTTC sees leisure spending on behalf of both domestic and international tourists more than doubling within the decade, from CFA608.2bn ($1bn) in 2018 to CFA1.3trn ($2.2bn) in 2029.

The government aims to make Côte d’Ivoire one of the top-five leisure tourism destinations in Africa by 2025, up from its 2019 position of 12th. Achieving this, however, will require greater diversification of offerings in order to attract more visitors. In an interview with regional media in March 2019, Fofana said the government is working to encourage investors to build hotels outside of Abidjan and eye opportunities in seaside, cultural, historical and ecological tourism.

The growing middle class is the primary target of the strategy to boost leisure tourism. Domestic tourism is already on the rise, with the number of Ivorian travellers growing by 13.3% in 2017. Abidjan was the most popular destination that year, receiving 45% of all tourists, followed by Assinie (12%) and Yamoussoukro (10%).

Challenges

The tourism industry in Côte d’Ivoire faces a number of challenges, especially in the leisure segment. The biggest issue is the poor state of roads in many regions. “The roads clearly are our main disadvantage. It takes too much time to travel to some parts of the country. Côte d’Ivoire used to have the best road network in West Africa, but now you need a pick-up truck almost everywhere,” Bamba told OBG. In a move to address this, in May 2019 the government announced that 200 km of road between Abidjan and San Pedro will be repaved. Costs for flying in and out of the country also remain relatively expensive for international tourists, representing a further obstacle to the development of the leisure segment. Reform is under way to make the Ivorian sky more competitive by reducing certain taxes, and low-cost carriers are being encouraged to add Côte d’Ivoire to their networks. Security concerns continue to challenge the sector as well. Even if the country has shown resilience following the terrorist attack in Grand-Bassam in 2016, instability in neighbouring countries has negatively impacted Côte d’Ivoire. “It is clear that the situations in Mali and Burkina Faso are hurting our activities,” Kouadio told OBG.

Diversifying

Boosting tourism will mean increasing the offering, especially in the leisure segment, which is relatively underdeveloped. In a move to unlock Côte d’Ivoire’s considerable seaside potential, in early 2019 the government launched a project called “Beautiful Beaches for All”, which aims to upgrade and modernise at least five popular beaches throughout Bassam, Mondoukou, Assinie, Port-Bouët and Jacqueville. The authorities also plan to develop new and revamp existing tours throughout the country, which showcase various aspects of the nation’s history and culture.

“In the past year several tour operators have started to show interest in Côte d’Ivoire – mostly for cultural tourism. We have hoped for a long time to see the country featured in the brochures of tour operators, and we believe it will happen soon,” Isabelle Segbenou, head of the tourism department of AFRIC Voyages, a local tour and travel agency, told OBG.

Niche Markets

Sector stakeholders are also betting on increased interest in ecotourism, especially among the middle class, expatriates and international visitors. Endowed with range of natural attractions, including beaches, forests and mangroves, and as a top producer of cocoa and other commodities, Côte d’Ivoire offers considerable potential for the development of ecotourism and agro-tourism offerings. “In the future the richness of the country’s flaura and fauna will likely play a bigger role in attracting international tourism,” Monik Philippe, director-general of Abidjan-based tour operator Ivoire Voyages Tourisme, told OBG. However, Côte d’Ivoire’s rich biodiversity is increasingly threatened by climate change and deforestation. There is also often a lack of infrastructure in these natural areas. “Despite the rapid loss of our forest cover, Côte d’Ivoire still has many renowned protected areas such as the national parks of Banco and Taï,” Kouadio told OBG. “We are trying to encourage Ivorians to turn to eco- and agro-tourism. We believe this is the only way to make tourism sustainable, as ecotourism benefits the local population and is a proven way to fight poverty. For this to happen, however, we need to invest in hotels, restaurants and entertainment activities.”

Outlook

As of mid-April 2020 the full extent of the impact of Covid-19 on Côte d’Ivoire’s tourism sector remained unclear; however, the virus is expected to significantly affect tourism numbers on a global scale in 2020. Nonetheless, the government’s ambitious plans to develop leisure tourism in the country demonstrate the clear political will to make the sector a key driver of the economy in the long term.

To succeed, Côte d’Ivoire will continue to develop its infrastructure – especially in the interior of the country with roads and airports – and diversify its offerings in terms of beach destinations, and cultural and nature tourism. In hand with these plans, maintaining stringent security in Côte d’Ivoire will be crucial to successfully attracting a greater number of international tourists.

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The Report: Cote d'Ivoire 2020

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