Government makes tourism priority sector in Côte d'Ivoire

 

The country’s return to stability following the conflicts throughout most of the 2000s, as well as the elevated growth that has come with it, have catalysed a resurgent tourism sector. While tourism’s contribution to GDP stood at just 0.6% in 2011, in April 2017 Côte d’Ivoire Tourism, the body in charge of promoting the tourism sector, announced that by 2016 this proportion had risen to reach 7.5%, up from 4.8% in 2015. Seeing strong potential in the country’s natural beauty, culture of hospitality and demographic youth bulge, the government has chosen tourism as one of its priority sectors, with the Ministry of Tourism, as part of the 2016-2020 National Development Plan (Plan National de Dé veloppement, PND), implementing a strategy to make it one of the top-three contributors to GDP by 2020.

The growth figures of recent years indicate this is an achievable target, although some sector stakeholders warn that high growth in domestic and business tourism mask the difficulties the country could face as it tries to increase the growing the number of international visitors coming for leisure purposes.

With 2016 figures indicating resilient visitor interest following a terrorist incident at Grand-Bassam, and international hotel chains looking to capitalise on the rapid rise in business tourism, it is likely that government support for foundational investments in hotel regulation and training – as well as nationwide transport infrastructure – will prove decisive in determining whether tourism can become a self-sustaining economic asset for the long term.

Evolving

In April 2017 Côte d’Ivoire Tourism, announced that the sector’s total contribution to GDP reached CFA1.54trn (€2.3bn) in 2016, 7.5% of the national total. This represents a bumper growth year for the sector, which in 2015 contributed CFA836bn (€1.3bn), or 4.8% of GDP.

It should be noted that these figures represent the total contribution of tourism to GDP, including what the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) calls the “wider impacts” of tourism on all aspects of the economy, which also comprises associated industries such as transport, logistics, construction and food production. The WTTC figures for the tourism industry’s direct impact in 2016 were also strong, registering 3.6% of total GDP, up from 2.3% in 2015. According to the 2017 “Hospitality Report Côte d’Ivoire” produced by online travel agency Jumia Travel in partnership with Accor Hotels, tourism sector receipts for 2015 were estimated at CFA419bn (€638m), with these figures expected to have grown by just over 4.8% in 2016 to reach CFA439bn (€669m). Both tourism’s direct and total contribution to GDP were expected to maintain significant growth in 2017, with forecasts from the WTTC at 7.9% and 6.9%, respectively.

Jean-Marie Somet, the director of the National Tourism Office, characterised the full-year 2016 figures as an indication that tourism had turned a corner following the terrorist attack at Grand-Bassam in March 2016. The attack killed 19 people, the majority of whom were civilians. Since then, visitor numbers at the destination have recovered sufficiently to earn it a place among the country’s most frequented destinations in 2017. It had been feared that the attacks would inflict long-term damage on international perceptions of security in the country.

Continental Growth

The growth of the country’s tourism industry can be seen as part of a wider trend of rising interest in African tourism, with international tourist arrivals to Africa up by 8% in the first seven months of 2017, and arrivals to sub-Saharan African growing by 10.3%. By August 2017 arrival numbers were surpassing the UN World Trade Organisation 5-6% growth forecast for the year.

According to the 2017 “Hospitality Report Africa”, also produced by Jumia Travel and Accor Hotels, the region is expected to attract 64m international tourist arrivals in 2017, up from 58m in 2016. The figure is expected to reach 110m by 2027. Europe was the main source market for international arrivals in 2016, with 47.3%, and Asia Pacific was the fastest-growing source market, growing by 21.7%.

Domestic & International

The country’s growing middle class and strong economic growth is being reflected in high domestic tourism receipts, with the segment contributing CFA1.3trn (€1.9bn) of the total CFA1.54trn (€2.3bn) in domestic travel spending in 2016. While the total contribution of international visitors increased, from CFA109.3bn (€166m) in 2015 to CFA115.6bn (€176m) in 2016, the international segment’s share of the sector’s total value decreased, from 11.1% to 8.9%. This relatively cautious growth in the international segment can be understood as a natural consequence of the March 2016 terrorist incident in Grand-Bassam.

The international segment was forecasted to bounce back in 2017, however, with the WTTC predicting foreign visitor spending to grow by 12.3%, as opposed to 7.6% for domestic travel spending over the same period. The Ministry of Tourism has been trying to develop the country’s presence internationally through representation at the world’s biggest tourism sector meetings, including Spain’s International Tourism Trade Fair, Germany’s ITB Berlin, ITFM Top Resa in France and the Beijing International Tourism Expo in China.

Business Tourism

In keeping with an economy that averaged GDP growth of 9% between the years of 2012 and 2016, and ranked among the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world in 2016, a stark rise in business tourism has been a significant feature of the sector’s post-conflict evolution. The business tourism segment currently surpasses that of leisure, with business spending making up 65.6% of tourism’s contribution to GDP in 2016, reaching CFA905.9bn (€1.4bn), while leisure tourism contributed 34.4%, or CFA475.3bn (€724.6m).

According to Jumia Travel in 2016 Abidjan became the business capital of francophone West Africa, thanks in large part to the city welcoming a number of international business events such as the Africa CEO Forum and Africa Telecom People. The Abidjan Conference Centre may give the city a competitive edge in the region as a meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) destination, thanks to approximately 2000 sq metres of meeting space, the February 2017 “Horwath Hotel Tourism and Leisure (HTL) Special Market Report” noted. As part of an international trend in the MICE segment, HTL expects the country’s MICE infrastructure to continue to grow in response to increasing demand.

According to the WTTC’s 2017 report on tourism in Côte d’Ivoire, business tourism is expected to continue to be an area of strong growth, with business spending forecast to grow by 7.8% in 2017. The WTTC estimates that total annual business spending will double over the course of the next decade, rising from $1.5bn in 2016 to reach $3bn in 2027.

The draw of business tourism has led leisure tourism stakeholders to call for more integration between the segments, with potential for both to benefit from the leisure segment’s ability to add value to business tourism experiences. “Most tourists come to Abidjan for business, but the real revenue-earning potential is in other segments, such as leisure and agro-tourism” Nadine Bla, CEO of Ivorian tourism company Capital Connect, told OBG.

Hotels

The growth in the numbers of business visitors has brought with it a flurry of investment activity in the hotel segment, with many of the world’s major hotel chains moving in to build in the country. Official figures note that the number of hotels in the country almost doubled between 2000 and 2015, and the government has been targeting the addition of a further 5000 new or renovated rooms to total supply by 2020. Major hotel chains are also contributing to the number of renovated rooms at Ivorian properties, with the French multinational hotel group Accor Hotels investing in the Sofitel Abidjan Ivoire Hotel, Novotel, Pullman Hotel, Ibis Plateau and Ibis Marcory. Overall, the country’s hotel supply is currently estimated at over 2000 hotels with a combined capacity of 38,000 rooms.

Most of the developments to hotel infrastructure in recent years have taken place in Abidjan, meaning that hotel infrastructure in other parts of the country remains relatively underdeveloped. According to the 2017 “Hospitality Report Côte d’Ivoire”, Abidjan was one of the top-10 most popular destinations on the continent for hotel bookings in 2016, and the city was also highlighted as one of the continent’s major business destinations and has benefited from international hotel chains’ plans to scale up investment in Africa’s rising centres for international business. A total of 365 hotel chain development pipelines were reported in Africa in 2016, up 29% on the previous year.

According to Accor Hotels, Côte d’Ivoire was in the continent’s top five in terms of booking demand, alongside Algeria, Morocco, Nigeria and Kenya.

The country represents a relatively affordable option for prospective travellers, with average room prices at hotels ranging from €21 per night in Bouaké to €58 per night in Grand-Bassam. In Abidjan, average room prices of €53 per night compared favourably with those in other major sub-Saharan destinations such as Lagos (€71), Nairobi (€68), Accra (€79) and Mombasa (€69).

Despite the influx of international hotel chains, 2016 figures indicate that mid- to low-market options remain the most popular. According to the Jumia Travel report, three-star hotels received the largest percentage of reservations, at 37%, followed by two- and one-star hotels at 31% and 24%, respectively. Four- and five-star hotels combined accounted for less than 10% of market share, at 7% and 1%, respectively. The arrival of new international hotel chains catering to the four- and five-star market will create additional demand for workers in the sector, which looks set to be met by the opening of the Grand-Bassam Hotel School (Ecole Hotelière de Grand-Bassam, EHB). In February 2017 the school had its official opening, which was presided over by Siandou Fofana, minister of tourism, and Somet. Built at a cost of CFA1.2bn (€1.8m), the training facility offers a bachelor’s degree in hotel management, specialisation degrees in hotel business and continuous studies in hotel and tourism management for 300 students annually. The opening of the EHB will add a much-needed outlet for human resources development, and is set to contribute to an increase in standards in the near to mid-term.

Average occupancy in Abidjan reached 65% in 2016, according to HTL data. This figure was slightly down on 2015, a fact that can be attributed to the increase in room supply brought about by the opening of large-scale hotels such as the Radisson Blu in March 2016. Hotel guests were largely from Europe (40%), or African (33%), with ECOWAS countries making up a significant proportion of the latter subset.

After Abidjan, Yamoussoukro is the country’s second-largest hotel market, with significant supply at the Hotel Président (285 rooms) and the HP Hotel (300 rooms). According to HTL, hotel performance in the capital remains low, with demand punctuated by large events and conferences. As such, the concentration of developments in Abidjan is not expected to change in the near to medium term, with areas like Plateau, Cocody, Marcory and Treichville all set to receive further mid- to high-end supply. However, the growing MICE segment presents opportunities for hotel development in coastal areas such as Grand-Bassam, Assinie and Jacqueville.

Growing Investment

Within the scope of growing the tourism industry to become one of the country’s top-three GDP contributors, the Ministry of Tourism has had some success in attracting investment. Under the tourism projects planned as part of the 2016-2020 PND, 63% of the funding is slated to come from the private sector, with the government covering the remaining 37%. The Côte d’Ivoire Investment Promotion Centre outlines a number of public-private partnership projects for which it is seeking private sector participation, including the Hôtel Président de Yamoussoukro and the Golf Hotel de Yamoussoukro (see analysis).

The most recent development on the investment front was the April 2017 announcement that Moroccan banking group Attijariwafa had signed an agreement to set up two investment funds dedicated to the tourism and hospitality sector, worth a combined total of €4.5bn. The first is intended to consolidate sector financing, while the second fund is designed to support the channelling of institutional savings towards the Ivorian tourism industry. In the same month Fofana announced that the government would increase the budget of its designated tourism development funds, with an emphasis on promoting the country’s cultural heritage and ecotourism segments.

Assets

The wide array of offerings in the region – including cultural, religious, leisure and business tourism, and underexploited niche segments such as sports or ecotourism – all bode well for sector growth. With four main cultural identities, over 60 ethnic groups and almost as many languages, Côte d’Ivoire is a culturally diverse country of 24m inhabitants well known for being receptive and hospitable towards foreigners. “People are so welcoming here. Every country has its own particularities, but one of the strongest assets of Côte d’Ivoire as a destination is that the people have a very nice character,” Teshome Gebreselassie, country manager for Côte d’Ivoire at Ethiopian Airlines, told OBG.

A key feature of religious tourism is the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, which was modelled after the Basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican and is located in Yamoussoukro. The country’s diversity is reflected in the various festivals celebrated throughout the year, with the Abissa festival in Grand-Bassam among the nation’s oldest and most popular events. Celebrating the N’Zima people, the festival is a traditional cultural event taking place annually at the end of October and attracting visitors well into the thousands. Other traditional festivals on offer include the town of Bonoua’s Popo Carnival and the Ignames festival celebrated in the east of the country.

To add to the growing number of MICE events being hosted by the country, it is also beginning to welcome international sports and cultural events. In July 2017 Abidjan hosted the Jeux de la Francophonie, the annual multi-sport and culture event carried out by the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie which gathered more than 4000 participants from across 70 countries. In 2021 Côte d’Ivoire will host another major sporting competition, the Africa Cup of Nations football tournament.

Unesco Sites

Further adding to the country’s potential attractions are Grand-Bassam, the national parks of Comoé and Taï, and the Mount Nima Strict Nature Reserve, all of which are classified as UNESCO World Heritage sites. Located about 40 km from Abidjan, Grand-Bassam is an example of classic colonial architecture. The village first emerged as the country’s port, as well as its economic and judicial capital in the late 19th century, but the area now serves as Côte d’Ivoire’s primary beach resort.

Natural Sites

With a substantial proportion of its natural environment relatively intact and undeveloped, as well as a number of pre-existing national parks, ecotourism has been identified as one of the industry’s high-potential segments. “You can still find hundreds of kilometres of undeveloped or wild beaches. In the interior, it’s largely in the country’s national parks that nature has been protected from plantations and other human developments,” Mamadou Bamba, manager at Evasion en Côte d’Ivoire, a company that organises bespoke tours for individuals and small groups, told OBG.

The National Park of Comoé, situated in the country’s north-east, represents one of the largest protected areas of West Africa and is characterised by its diversity of plant life. Stretching over more than 1m ha, the park is home to a variety of animals such as lions, elephants, hippos and buffalo. The National Park of Taï is one of the last remnants of primary tropical forests in West Africa. Extending over 330,000 ha, it is treasured for its rich flora and fauna, including some 1300 plant species and endangered mammal species such as the pygmy hippopotamus. In a bid to promote the sustainability of the area, visits to the park are limited to 1500 annually. Mount Nima Strict Nature Reserve, set on the borders of Guinea, Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire, consists of dense forests that harbour species such as the viviparous toad and chimpanzees.

As part of its initiative to develop the segment, the government has launched public-private partnership projects to enable investment at several parks, including the Banco National Park, the Dahliafleur Natural Reserve at Abidjan and the National Park of Taï. Gougou Kouadio Marcel, president of the Ivorian Network for Tourism and Agro-tourism, told OBG that the government has been looking internationally for models of how to successfully develop the country’s national park network. “I have been studying the example of Japan as a country that has applied real expertise in developing its national parks. If it’s properly invested in, ecotourism can be both highly profitable and sustainable,” he said.

Agro-Tourism

The country also has potential in its developing agro-tourism industry, where it has looked to capitalise on key commodities such as cocoa and coffee to attract more travellers to visit and explore its plantations. With annual output averaging 1.3m tonnes, Côte d’Ivoire is the world’s largest cocoa producer, and the state has been looking to develop this niche segment since the end of the armed conflict. Palm oil, rubber and bananas also have the potential to generate more tourism revenues and contribute to the socio-economic development of local communities.

The ecotourism segment received a public relations boost in May 2017 when the country’s last wild rhinoceros was captured and transferred to a Nz’i River Lodge reserve in Bouaké. The continent’s rhinocerous population has been devastated by poaching, and the hope is that the last remaining example of the species in the country can reproduce.

Beach Development

With 520 km of Atlantic beaches, most of which remain largely untouched, the country has huge potential for coastal tourism.

In August 2017 at Port Bouet in Gonzagueville, the Ministry for Tourism launched the Côte d’Ivoire Beach programme. The project to develop the country’s beaches will be carried out with the assistance of the Ministry for Security and the Interior; the Ministry for Hygiene, the Environment and Sustainable Development, and the Ministry for the Promotion of Youth, Youth Employment and Civic Service.

The programme seeks to highlight the touristic value of the country’s beaches and will seek to raise awareness among the population on the subjects of cleaning, securing and modernising them. The initial phase of the project will take place in Port-Bouet, Jacqueville and Grand-Bassam, before expanding to other coastal towns across the country.

E-Tourism

While nationwide internet coverage remains low by international standards, initiatives from both the private and public sector are seeking to maximise the potential of digital tools to improve the reach and efficiency of Ivorian tourism. Should it prove effective, the government’s strategy for broadening internet access (see ICT chapter) – including the One Citizen, One Computer programme and its targeted increase in internet penetration from 31% in 2015 to 50% in 2020 – could have a catalytic effect on the tourism industry.

In the private sector, more than 50% of hotels in the country now have an online presence as a result of listing on the Jumia Travel online platform. A number of government platforms also promote Ivorian tourism online, including Ivoire Voyage Tourism and Travel to Ivory Coast, among others.

The growth of e-tourism is underlined by substantial growth in e-commerce, with a number of start-ups contributing to the latter segment’s estimated growth of 55% in 2015 and 70% in 2016. Nonetheless, the Jumia Travel report notes that this growth has occurred predominantly in urban areas, with 94% of e-commerce transactions carried out in the country’s largest cities. Outside of urban areas, digital literacy is low, a factor that exacerbates the already centralised nature of the tourism industry. With regard to means of payment, online methods have yet to challenge the dominance of in-person payments: 88% of hotel payments in 2016 were carried out in the hotel, with online and mobile payments accounting for just 9% and 3%, respectively.

Flagship Projects

In April 2017, as part of a series of meetings organised by Attijariwafa bank’s entrepreneurial platform, Africa Development Club, on investment opportunities in the tourism sector, the government announced nine flagship projects to boost growth in tourism. These include the construction of a mixed-use leisure and tourism development, known as Aérocité, or airport city, an animal park at Jacqueville, water parks at Assinie and Bingerville, guest villas in every regional capital, and a palace and hotel infrastructure on the south-west coast, including further developments at Assinie, Grand Lahou, San Pedro, Sassandra and Tabou.

At the meeting, Fofana highlighted the government target of welcoming 5m visitors annually by 2020. Noting the country’s variety of landscapes, cultures, traditions, artisans and the historical heritage of Grand-Bassam, Fofana highlighted coastal tourism, ecotourism and cultural tourism as the three segments to be developed.

Air Travel

Côte d’Ivoire has three international airports in Abidjan, Yamoussoukro and Bouaké, and 14 other airfields, the most important of which are in Daloa, Korhogo, Man, Odienné and San Pedro. According to the state, the Félix Houphouët Boigny International Airport in Abidjan absorbs 90% of all air traffic and generates 95% of revenue for the aviation sector. Managed by private company Aéria, Abidjan’s international airport hosts 19 airlines, including Air Côte d’Ivoire, Air France, Emirates Airline, Morocco’s Royal Air Maroc and Asky Airlines, and has direct connections to 34 destinations across the globe.

Air traffic at the airport has been steadily growing since 2011, reaching 1.3m visitors in 2014 and 1.6m in 2015. In April 2015 Abidjan Airport received certification from the US Transport Security Administration, which allows the airport to establish direct flight connections with the US.

“The only problem with Abidjan airport is that the ground-handling costs are extremely high,” Gebreselassie told OBG. “Last year we did a comparative analysis and the operational costs at the airport are some of the most expensive in the world.”

According to Gebreselassie, foreign workers and middle-class Ivorians on outbound trips represent two of the current growth areas in air travel. “Because there is a lot of infrastructure and industry growth in Côte d’Ivoire right now, one of the largest sources of passengers is labour traffic. We also have a lot of business travellers to places like China, India, Dubai and Kuala Lumpur, but labour traffic is probably the biggest. In recent years the country’s middle class has also started exploring overseas, especially to destinations such as the Middle East, Dubai, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur,” he added.

CHALLENGES: One of the biggest obstacles to creating a more diversified tourism sector is the country’s transport infrastructure. Côte d’Ivoire has one of the largest transport networks in West Africa, but following damage and neglect suffered during the conflict, it is undergoing vital refurbishment (see Construction and Transport chapters).

Of the country’s 85,000 km of roads, 75,500 km are dirt, 6500 km are paved and 150 km are highways that serve both national as well as international traffic with connections to Ghana, Liberia, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. The rail network is 1156 km long and connects Abidjan to Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso. Dirt roads are particularly problematic for tourism in a country which experiences a substantial rainy season on a yearly basis.

“Putting down tarmac on Ivorian roads is a minimum requirement if we are to have a more developed tourism industry that benefits the interior of the country in the future,” Bamba told OBG.

The country’s long rainy season, which extends from April to mid-July in the north, and from June The Félix Houphouët Boigny International Airport in Abidjan absorbs 90% of all air traffic and generates 95% of revenue for the aviation sector. to September in the south, presents a more permanent problem for the country’s growth potential, particularly with regard to the European market. “Unfortunately, the European holiday season overlaps with our rainy season, so I think sector and national development will always be limited by this to a certain extent,” Ignace Meney, director of operations at Heden Golf Hotel, told OBG.

The need to increase regulation and create a more formalised sector presents another long-term challenge for the Ministry of Tourism. Although the sector is evolving rapidly, a lack of professionalism remains a common feature in many parts of the industry, as noted by the 2017 Jumia Travel report.

“Unfortunately, dishonest practices are not uncommon in the Ivorian tourism market. For example, many tour guides will offer to guide tourists to places in the country’s interior without having been there themselves. This leads to less than ideal experiences for the tourist, and reflects poorly on the industry’s more honest and professional practitioners,” Bamba told OBG. On the whole, the country is being faced with the challenge of rapidly modernising a multitude of aspects of its tourism sector in a relatively short period of time.

Another example of this is the shortage of electronic payment facilities at businesses throughout the country. According to Mamadou Diomandé, president of the Fédération Nationale de l’Industrie Touristique de Côte d’Ivoire, 90% of tourism businesses in the country are not equipped to carry out electronic transactions. Diomandé also told OBG that many tourism projects – particularly those in the private sector – face financing issues because banks view tourism projects as risky investments.

Outlook

Figures from 2015 until the present show that the country’s tourism sector is undergoing rapid change. A vibrant economy and a growing business community have fostered a business tourism segment that is supporting high growth in visitor numbers and hotel developments.

The country’s growing middle class is also supporting strong growth in domestic tourism and outbound travel to destinations in Africa and beyond. While an increase in the number of four- and five-star hotels is helping to raise standards in the hospitality segment, steps forward in the sector’s development are overwhelmingly being made in the country’s economic capital, Abidjan.

In this regard, the opening of the EHB at Grand-Bassam in February 2017 will add a vital outlet for human resources development, which along with the arrival of new international hotel chains is hoped to gradually increase sector quality standards in the near-to-mid term.

On the whole, the country’s potential as an integrated leisure, business and ecotourism destination has yet to be fully realised, with publicly funded investments in the country’s road and national park infrastructure expected to provide returns on investments only on a medium- to long-term basis.

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The Report: Côte d'Ivoire 2018

Tourism chapter from The Report: Côte d'Ivoire 2018

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