Côte d’Ivoire aims to establish tourism as the third pillar of its economy with a target of attracting 5m foreign tourists per year and creating 700,000 jobs in the sector by 2025. These targets seek to build on the substantial gains the sector has made since the political and security situation stabilised in 2012. In the subsequent years tourism grew steadily, with international tourist arrivals rising 10-fold in 2011-19. The sector’s contribution to GDP increased from 0.6% to 8.5% over that same period, indicating robust recovery.

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic and the imposition of global travel restrictions in early 2020, the government is forging ahead with investment plans to establish Côte d’Ivoire as a regional tourist destination. “Domestic tourism is a niche that could be further developed in the future, reducing reliance on foreign tourists while diversifying the client base,” Monique Philippe, general director of Ivoire Voyages Tourisme, told OBG.

Structure & Oversight

Responsibility for oversight and development of tourism falls under the Ministry of Tourism (MoT), and the sector is regulated by the Tourism Code. The National Tourism Board (Office National du Tourisme, ONT) implements the government’s tourism policy and promotes the country as a tourism destination. There are 12 separate Regional Tourism Directorates which are supported by 20 departmental directorates under the ONT. In addition, 11 foreign representative agencies are charged with promoting Côte d’Ivoire abroad.

Tourism operators, hotels, guides and other sector players are represented by two key umbrella organisations: the National Federation of Tourism of Côte d’ Ivoire (Féderation Nationale de l’Industrie Touristique de Côte d’Ivoire, FENITOURCI) and the National Federation of Hospitality of Côte d’Ivoire (Féderation Nationale de l’Industrie Hôtelière de Côte d’Ivoire, FNIH-CI). FENITOURCI represents around 200 members and works to enhance their professional training and contributes to structuring the sector’s legal framework more broadly. FNIH-CI provides similar representation and services to its members and recently became an official member of the African Tourism Board. This continent-wide organisation fosters tourism through collaboration, marketing and investment promotion.

At the national level, the government’s tourism strategy is guided by an eight-year policy for the 2018-25 period known as Sublime Côte d’Ivoire. Comprising nine reforms, the policy is a CFA3.2trn ($5.5bn) development blueprint for overhauling the tourism landscape by strengthening the Tourism Code, upgrading transport and infrastructure, developing new attractions, and improving administrative procedures. Its principal goal is to position the country among the top-five tourism destinations on the continent.

Diverse Landscapes

Côte d’Ivoire has a wide array of tourist attractions, including cultural, religious and leisure sites, and underexploited niche segments such as sport or ecotourism. With four main cultural identities, over 60 ethnic groups and almost as many languages, Côte d’Ivoire is a culturally diverse country of 27m inhabitants well known for being receptive and hospitable towards foreigners. 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. The festival typically attracts thousands of visitors each year. Other festivals on offer include the Popo Carnival in Bonoua and the Ignames festival celebrated in the country’s east. With a substantial proportion of its natural environment relatively intact and undeveloped, as well as several large national parks, ecotourism is one of the industry’s high-potential segments.

Performance & Size

Following the launch of Sublime Côte d’Ivoire, the travel sector’s contribution to GDP increased from 6.3% in 2018 to 7.3% in 2019. The government also secured investment commitments worth more than $11.4bn. However, as with many countries around the world, the growth of the country’s tourism sector has stalled due to the pandemic. According to a study by FNIH-CI, turnover for the tourism and leisure sector fell by 73% in 2020. While the government offered financial support to the industry, only four of FENITOURCI’s 200 affiliated companies were able to access it due to stringent eligibility requirements. As a result of these disruptions, the sector’s contribution to GDP fell to 4.8% in 2020, the last year for which data is available. According to figures from the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), the tourism sector contributed $2.1bn to the economy in 2020, a 44% decline from 2019. The industry also shed more than 218,000 jobs, bringing the sector headcount to around 492,000 people, or 5.9% of the workforce.

The sector continues to be driven by business tourism, representing 67% of travel and tourism spending in 2020, while leisure spending accounted for the remaining 33%. However, leisure spending as a share of tourism inflows continues to grow, having risen from 28% in 2017. Domestic spending is still the dominant source of tourism receipts, accounting for 89% of spending compared to 11% for international spending. In 2020 total tourism receipts fell to $900m compared to almost $2bn in 2019.

Prior to the pandemic, the WTTC had forecast an increase in business travel spending of 7.6% in 2019, with leisure spending expected to increase by 5.9% the same year. With Côte d’Ivoire hosting a series of major international events in 2022 and 2023, including the COP15 to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, the Africa Cup of Nations and the third Intra-African Trade Fair, the government is hoping to attract more international business and leisure travellers.

Visitor Numbers & Source Markets

The number of international visitors rose sharply from 300,000 in 2012 to 2.1m in 2019; however, it fell to 668,000 in 2020 due to the pandemic. French nationals accounted for 24% of inbound arrivals in 2020, followed by residents of Guinea (13%), Burkina Faso (9%), Mali (8%) and Senegal (7%). This marked a slight decrease in French tourists. US visitors declined significantly, from 7% of total foreign arrivals in 2019 to virtually zero in 2020. Domestic tourism fell sharply, with slightly less than half the number of trips taken in 2020 compared to 2019.

Apart from the pandemic, Côte d’Ivoire is also working to tackle issues that undermine its competitiveness as a regional and global tourism destination. In the 2019 World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index, Côte d’Ivoire ranked 119th out of 140 countries, with poor road and port infrastructure cited as one of the principal challenges. In recent years, the government has implemented visa liberalisation policies while also investing in road and national park infrastructure in an effort to attract more foreign tourists. Developing infrastructure is one of the nine priority reforms outlined in Sublime Côte d’Ivoire.

Hotel Infrastructure

The hotel industry in the country is highly competitive. However, there are a limited number of quality establishments, and this presents an opportunity for both luxury and niche hotel operators. There are approximately 2000 hotels in the country, with a total capacity of 38,000 rooms. Most are in Abidjan, where several leading international hotel chains, including Sofitel, Pullman, Ibis and Radisson, have entered the market in recent years and plan to expand their portfolio in the country. Others such as Novotel, Adagio, Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons and Sheraton are also set to launch hotels.

According to the “2021 Hotel Chain Development Pipelines in Africa” report published by the W Hospitality Group, Côte d’Ivoire ranks in the top-10 African countries in terms of its hotel chain development pipeline. There are 15 hotels currently planned or under construction, which will add an additional 2337 rooms to the hotel portfolio.

Business Tourism

Côte d’Ivoire ranks third on the continent for business tourism, behind Nigeria and Morocco. Business travel accounts for more than two-thirds of tourist spending, mostly from regional conferences and exhibitions. Despite this, the country’s potential to become a regional destination for meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions remains largely untapped. There is currently no major conference centre able to accommodate more than 5000 people. The Abidjan Conference Centre, which spans approximately 2000 sq metres, is the only large venue and is located outside of the city centre. To address this issue, the MoT is focusing on expanding conference facility infrastructure.

One of the projects in the pipeline is the Abidjan Business City, a scheme to create a central location for hosting meetings and conferences, which will include a 5000-person-capacity conference centre and hall. The WTTC forecasts that business tourism spending will double from the CFA1.5trn ($2.6bn) registered in 2018 to nearly CFA3trn ($5.2bn) in 2029.

Niche Markets

Tourism segments like ecotourism, agro-tourism and cruises also hold immense potential. Côte d’Ivoire is a major producer of high-quality cocoa and coffee. Building tourism experiences around these plantations could attract more visitors. This model of tourism has already seen some success in other African countries such as Ghana and Rwanda.

Since 2016 the government has also accelerated efforts to promote ecotourism through the conservation of parks and national reserves. The West African country is also a signatory of the first African Charter on Sustainable and Responsible Tourism. Several initiatives have already enjoyed success, including an ecotourism project in Taï National Park that invests in the conservation of animals like chimpanzees through sustainable tourism initiatives. The government also has an agreement with Le Vertendre, a Canadian specialist in sustainable development, to build eco-lodges in the country. Under Sublime Côte d’Ivoire, and with the support of regional bodies such as ECOWAS, efforts are also under way to promote cruise tourism across the region. Luxury cruise line companies already operate tours that stopover in Abidjan.

The MoT has identified creating an effective marketing strategy as key to revitalising the tourism sector. Following its successful hosting of World Tourism Day 2021 celebrations in Abidjan, a rebranding was conducted as part of a new marketing campaign for 2022. The director-general of Côte d’Ivoire Tourism, Malékah Mourad-Condé, also unveiled a new logo, song and slogan – “Ivory Coast, inspiring land of hospitality” – to promote tourism in the country in early 2022. A website showcasing the country’s diverse tourism offerings is also in the pipeline as part of the strategy.


The reopening of global travel following Covid-19 restrictions should facilitate the sector’s recovery. According to Oxford Economics Africa, the number of jobs created by tourism will exceed 2019 levels by 2024, while visitor arrivals are set to eclipse pre-pandemic levels by 2025. Even if travel is periodically limited due to additional waves of Covid-19 in 2022, the country has shown it will continue to prioritise tourism to realise the full potential of the industry.