Growing traffic stimulates hotel investments and interest in niche developments in Cote d'Ivoire's tourism sector

Côte d’Ivoire is looking to make a growth-driven sector out of tourism. However, political instability and armed conflict over the past decade have left important parts of infrastructure – including accommodation and transport networks – damaged or in disrepair across the country. The sector’s direct contribution to GDP accounted for 2.3% in 2015 and was projected to grow to 4.8% in 2016. In order to keep growing and further developing the potential of its various segments, a number of significant challenges need to be addressed in infrastructure development, maintenance, staff training and education, and quality standards.

Rising Traffic

Tourist arrivals have been increasing in recent years, yet the majority of traffic is still domestic. According to government statistics, Abidjan’s international airport registered 470,809 international tourist arrivals in 2014, against 269,810 in 2011, while domestic tourists arrivals reached 706,213 in 2014, compared to 288,184 in 2011.

While foreign tourist arrivals recorded by the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) differ slightly, a similar growth dynamic is seen on the whole as the number of international tourist arrivals grows. Total traffic was expected to reach 390,000 in 2016 and is forecast to reach 538,000 by 2026, generating CFA192.7bn (€293.7m) in expenditure, and an annual average growth of 4.9%.

The growth in projected international tourist arrivals to the continent provide a cause for optimism. According to the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), the number of travellers to Africa is expected to reach 134m by 2030, up from 65.3m in 2014 and 17.4m in 1990. In the first half of 2016 international arrivals were up 5% year-on-year.

The easing of travel restrictions and visa regulations common to many African countries should help attract numbers, and Côte d’Ivoire’s roll out of its e-visa system puts the country on the right path forward. The new system, which relies on online applications, has allowed processing fees to be cut by half and guarantees a visa to be given upon arrival in the country at the airport.

Economic Contribution

According to the WTTC, the direct contribution of tourism and travel to GDP reached approximately CFA438.9bn (€669m) in 2015. Meanwhile, the total contribution of travel and tourism to GDP in 2015 was CFA836.8bn (€1.2bn), equivalent to 4.5% of GDP. In 2016, this contribution was expected to grow 3.9% to reach CFA869bn (€1.3bn), or 4.4% of GDP. While Côte d’ Ivoire’s total sector contribution to GDP in 2015 was still below Africa’s average of 8.1%, its forecast contribution in 2016 showed greater promise, standing above the forecast African average of 2.6%. Furthermore, travel and tourism generated 101,000 jobs directly in 2015, accounting for 1.9% of total employment in Côte d’Ivoire. In 2016 direct employment was expected to fall 0.9%, to 100,000, but staying stable at 1.9% of total employment. In regards to the total contribution to employment, travel and tourism generated 207,500 jobs in 2015, accounting for 4% of total employment. This was expected to decline by 1.8% in 2016 to 203,500 jobs, or 3.8% of total employment. The African average stood at 7.2% of total employment in 2015 and displayed a forecast growth of 0.2% in 2016.

According to the WTTC’s capital investment indicators, travel and tourism attracted about CFA48bn (€73.1m) in investment in 2015, significantly higher International tourist arrivals have been growing, and were expected to reach 390,000 in 2016 and are forecast to reach 538,000 by 2026 than Africa’s average of €26.6m. While this was expected to decrease by 1.4% in 2016, the WTTC forecasts a 6.7% yearly increase over the next ten years to CFA90.6bn (€138.1m). Overall, Côte d’Ivoire ranks 37 out of 184 countries in the WTTC’s 2016-26 long-term growth forecast. This is corroborated by government statistics indicating a growing contribution of tourism to GDP in recent years, expanding from 1.8% to 4.8% from 2011 to 2014. Regional trends also bode well for the industry’s future. According to the WTTC, total travel and tourism increased by 3.3% in sub-Saharan Africa in 2015, growing at a faster pace than both North Africa and Europe, which grew 1.4% and 2.5%, respectively.

Business & Domestic Spending

Within the tourism and travel sector, business travel still represents the largest share of sector contributions to GDP. WTTC statistics show that business travel spending accounted for 55.6% of travel and tourism contributions to GDP, a total of CFA548.3bn (€835.8m); while leisure spending covered 44.4% of travel and tourism GDP contributions, totalling CFA437.8bn (€667.4m). While both are expected to grow over time, business travel was forecast to account for the larger share of travel and tourism contributions to GDP in 2026, and was projected to reach CFA1049.8bn (€1.6bn), against CFA712.9bn (€1.08bn) from leisure travellers.

Côte d’Ivoire would benefit from attracting more international tourism. In 2015, domestic spending represented the vast majority of travel and tourism in the country, with contributions to GDP standing at 88.9%, against 11.1% from visitor exports – foreign visitor spending or international tourism receipts. This situation is expected to continue with little changes going forward. Domestic travel spending is forecast to grow an annual average of 5.3%, reaching CFA1570bn (€2.39bn) in 2026, against an annual average growth of 4.9% and CFA192.7bn (€293.7m) from visitor exports in the same period.

Government Goals

Despite this situation, the government is invested in developing and promoting tourism as an engine of economic growth and development. To achieve this goal, it has allocated CFA375.5bn (€572.4m) to the development of a dynamic tourism sector that contributes to wealth and employment within the framework of the 2016-20 National Development Plan (Plan National de Développement, PND), which comprises 1.25% of the total PND 2016-20 budget allocations. The government has allocated CFA304.6bn (€464.3m), the largest share of PND 2016-20 budget allocations, to tourism. It aims to increase the sector’s offerings by allocating CFA72.5bn (€110.6m) towards the rehabilitation and construction of tourism-related infrastructures, and CFA230bn (€350.6m) reserved for the development of seaside offerings.

Speaking at the fifth meeting of the Abidjan International Tourism Fair (Salon International du Tourisme d’Abidjan, SITA) in 2015, Roger Kacou, former tourism minister, shared his ambition of reaching 1m international tourist and 1m domestic tourist arrivals in 2016. In earlier declarations from March 2014, the minister further outlined the government’s year 2020 expected sector results, including 1.5m international tourist arrivals, a sector contribution of 5% to GDP, and the creation of 200,000 jobs. In 2015, five years ahead of schedule, the sector surpassed the target it had set for job creation, and the proposed target for contribution to GDP was not far off, showing the country’s dedication to achieving its goals.

Varied Offer

The wide array of offerings in the region – including cultural, religious, leisure and business tourism and underexploited niche sectors such as sports or ecotourism – all bode well for potential tourism attractions. With four overarching cultural identities, over 60 ethnic groups and almost as many languages, Côte d’Ivoire is a culturally diverse country of 22.6m inhabitants. 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 the country’s capital, Yamoussoukro. The country’s diversity is also reflected in its various festivals celebrated throughout the year, with the Abissa festival in Grand-Bassam among one of its 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 in the thousands. Other traditional festivals include the town of Bonoua’s Popo Carnival and the Ignames fest celebrated in the east of the country.

To further promote tourism to the country a number of business and sporting events are expected to attract visitors in 2017. Most notably are the Francophone games, a multi-sport and culture event carried out by the International Organisation of La Francophonie, which will be hosted in Abidjan in July, gathering more than 4000 participants from across 70 countries. In 2021 Côte d’Ivoire will host another major sports tournament, the Africa Cup of Nations, the biennial international men’s football tournament. The country was set to host in 2014 but had to rescind its invitation due to the conflict.

World Heritage 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, which are UNESCO classified world heritage sites. Located about 40 km from the country’s economic capital, Abidjan, Grand-Bassam remains an example of classic colonial architecture in the country. The village first emerged as the country’s port, economic and judicial capital in the late 19th century, but now the area is the country’s primary beach resort area.

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 great diversity of plant life. Stretching over more than 1m ha of land, 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 forest 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. Lastly, 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.

Development Potential

Together with other national parks and reserves, these sites stand as a testament to the country’s potential in the development of ecotourism. Located in the vicinities of Abidjan, the Banco National Park has been the subject of government and international support and protection after extensive damage suffered during the armed conflict. The government sees a possible avenue for development within the framework of public-private partnerships (PPP), for an estimated total cost of CFA11.9bn (€18.1m). The Dahliafleur Natural Reserve in Abidjan is also seen as a potential PPP development target, through a 3-year CFA7.5bn (€11.43m) project, which is aimed at creating an ecotourism centre, with plans for a botanical garden and a modern zoo under way. These efforts are part of the government’s initiatives to revive and promote ecotourism in Côte d’Ivoire, with some encouraging initiatives already visible at Taï National Park (see analysis).

Ecotourism should also receive a boost thanks to an evolving agro-tourism industry. The country is increasingly looking 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 since the end of the armed conflict, authorities are increasingly looking to develop this niche segment. Several initiatives offering guided tours to different plantations are already in place, but the sector’s potential for the largest segment – cocoa– remains untapped. Other key staples with the potential for generating more tourism revenues and contributing to the socio-economic development of local communities include palm oil, rubber and bananas.

Côte d’Ivoire’s seaside also offers an important potential for the development of tourism. The country has about 520 km of Atlantic coastline with extensive beaches providing room for leisure and seaside activities such as watersports and horse riding. In addition to Grand-Bassam, Assinie and Sassandra are major coastal tourist attractions as well as San Pedro, Monogaga and Grand-Béréby.

Accommodation

Available accommodation infrastructure is increasing, despite large-scale damage and underdevelopment due to conflict, lack of investment and maintenance. According to the government, the number of hotels in the country almost doubled from 2000 to 2015. Government data indicates strong growth in recent years, with the number of hotel units reaching 2000 in 2014, up from 1305 in 2011. This includes 1795 mid-rise and 205 high-rise hotels, for a total of 30,471 rooms and 60,942 beds. The occupancy rate also increased during this period, from 53.3% to 69.4%.

The government has demonstrated its willingness to contribute to sector growth, including by investing CFA4.3bn (€6.5m) to rehabilitate stateowned hotel infrastructure. The Society of Cocody Palaces – the state’s hotel infrastructure manager, developer and promoter of tourism in the lagoon region – currently holds six entities in its portfolio: the Sofitel Abidjan Ivoire Hotel, the Ivoire Golf Club, the Heden Golf Abidjan Hotel, the Daoukro Peace Hotel, the Katiola Gambol Hotel and Lagoona Tours. In Abidjan, the government is investing CFA150bn (€229m) in the rehabilitation and extension of the Ivoire Golf Club within the framework of a PPP. In Yamoussoukro, the state is looking into the CFA30bn (€45.7m) rehabilitation and extension of the Yamoussoukro President Hotel to name another. Furthermore, the government is centred on supporting the development of nine, 20- to 30-room hotel complexes, located in various cities across the country with the Relais Paillottes project. Named after local construction materials, the project aims to develop interior and rural areas with the support and investment provided by PPPs. Estimated costs range from CFA800M (€1.2m) for a 20-room hotel, to CFA1.3bn (€1.98m) for a 30-room hotel.

Major Investments

In response to growing tourist arrivals, Côte d’Ivoire has seen major investments in accommodation infrastructure in recent years. Abidjan is at the centre of these efforts, which are driven primarily by business opportunities in the city. According to local news reports, the French multinational hotel group, AccorHotels, is carrying out renovations at a number of its properties including Sofitel Abidjan Ivoire Hotel, Novotel, Pullman Hotel, Ibis Plateau and Ibis Marcory. The group intends to renovate and extend its overall reception capacities in Abidjan over the next years and has already announced a CFA24bn (€6.5m) investment plan. In March 2016 the Minneapolis and Brussels-based Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group officially opened the Radisson Blu, a 252-room complex costing CFA25bn (€38.1m). The hotel is located in the vicinity of the airport, where the government is planning further developments of a CFA1000bn (€1.5bn) urban project aimed at setting up a modern city area, with hotels, housing, businesses, restaurants and cafés, commerce and other services.

Not far from the Radisson Blu, lies the 118-room Onomo Hotel, from the Dakar-based Onomo Hotel Group. Inaugurated in December 2012, its construction cost over CFA7bn (€10.6m). In 2012 the Malian Azalaï Hotels Group launched the construction a 190-room hotel for the cost of CFA13bn (€19.8m) in Marcory, along the Valéry Giscard d’Estaing boulevard. The Barcelona-based Mangalis Group, owned by the Mauritian Teyliom Holding, is building the 149-room Seen Abidjan Hotel in the Plateau business district for CFA29bn (€44.2m).

In addition to these projects, several more have been announced by international hotel groups. The US Hilton Hotels and Resorts Group has announced the construction of a hotel in Abidjan, together with renovation of various administrative buildings, a jetty and a library in the Plateau business district. This so-called “little Manhattan” project is estimated to cost CFA287bn (€437.5m). The Swiss group Mövenpick Hotels and Resorts announced the construction of a 220-room hotel in the same area, for an estimated cost of €55m, and the French Louvre Hotels Group announced the construction of a 130-room Golden Tulip Inn in the Angré district, for about CFA8bn (€12.1m).

Travel Transportation

Côte d’Ivoire has one of the largest transport networks in West Africa. Having suffered damage during the armed conflict and grown old due to a lack of maintenance and investment, it is currently being refurbished in a long-term bid to sustain high levels of economic growth (see construction and transport chapters).

The country has an 85,000 km road network, of which 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. The country’s two major ports, Abidjan and San Pedro, are transfer spots for regional trade. As for 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 government, the Félix Houphouët Boigny international airport in Abidjan absorbs 90% of all air traffic and takes 95% of sector revenue.

Managed by private company Aéria, Abidjan’s international airport hosts 19 airlines, including Air Côte d’Ivoire, Air France, Emirates Airlines, Royal Air Maroc and Asky Airlines and has direct connections to 34 international destinations. In April 2015 the airport obtained the US Transport Security Administration certification, again making possible direct flights with the US. Monique Philippe, general manager of local travel agency Ivoire Voyages Tourisme, told OBG, “A reestablishment of flights with the US could be beneficial for the development of tourism, granting us the opportunity to take part in certain travel circuits in the country, and in the West African region, that were successful with US tourists in the past. The development of Air Côte d’Ivoire should also contribute to tourism growth inside Côte d’Ivoire, as domestic flights allow for the creation of more attractive travel routes. Notwithstanding this,” she added, “more investment is required in accommodation infrastructure in tourist areas, so as to allow us to offer standard optimal accommodation conditions to our clients in line with international norms.”

Key Challenges

Apart from increasing the country’s offer in tourism services, the PND 2016-20 seeks to address a number of the most important challenges currently limiting the sector’s development including low quality standards, lack of access to financing and insufficient fiscal incentive. According to local media reports, during a conference held in early 2017 reviewing the sector’s previous year performance Roger Kacou, former tourism minister, reported that only 263 hotels, accounting for just 12.7% of the 2142 hotels inspected in 2016, were in possession of permits, calling for additional legislative processes for the industry.

Training and education constitute another main challenge. Marie-Reine Koné, CEO of local travel agency AFRIC Voyages, told OBG that “education and training services are not always in tune with the sector’s general or specific needs”. Philippe echoed this concern, pointing out that the lack of quality standards and reliable statistics as a real challenge for short and mid-term sector forecasts.

Concerning the development of education and training, many see a positive step in the creation of the Grand-Bassam Hotel School (Ecole Hôtelière de Grand-Bassam, EHB). The training facility offers a BA in hotel management, specialisation degrees in hotel business and continuous studies in hotel and tourism management to a total of 300 students. It will operate in collaboration with the Casablanca Hotel School and the Geneva Hotel School.

Framework

Further developments include a sector code which was signed by President Alassane Dramane Ouattara in March 2014 and the first of its kind since independence in 1960. The legal framework was designed to create better conditions for the development of tourism enterprises and professions in the country. The code should encourage more operators to start gradually shifting into the formal sector while facilitating travel, promoting tourism, developing human resources through training, creating a legal framework for professional relations, and applying sector norms and across-the-board standards.

Security Concerns

In March 2016 a terrorist attack struck Grand-Bassam. The attack killed 19 people, the majority of whom were civilians. Following the incident, the government disbursed a CFA300m (€457,347) support package, CFA200m (€300,000) going towards aiding affected hotels. In the wake of the attack, the President of the National Federation of the Tourism Industry, Mamadou Diomandé, welcomed the government’s immediate support. In addition, Mamadou called for the reinforcement of security in all tourist areas, especially seaside resorts; tax exemptions on security equipment for accommodation areas and restaurants; and training of hotel personnel in security. Increased security spending is expected in 2017, with up to CFA100bn (€152.5m) earmarked to prevent possible future attacks and to instil a sense of safety, according to local news sources.

Promoting Tourism

The government has actively invested in marketing and communication, supporting the participation of Ivorian businesses in international tourism fairs, including most recently in Madrid in January 2017, Beijing in May 2016, Berlin in March 2016 and Paris in September 2015.

In addition to this, Côte d’Ivoire itself inaugurated the sixth edition of the SITA from Abidjan in April 2016, while also welcoming and hosting the 58th UNWTO regional meeting for Africa, which brought together tourism and government officials in the tourism sector to discuss the most important issues facing the industry in Africa. The country also hosted the Sustainable Tourism Conference and Symposium on Accelerating the Shift towards Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns which gathered ministers, high-ranking officials and stakeholders in the tourism industry to discuss the integration of sustainable practices.

Outlook

With a varied offer and clear development potential, Côte d’Ivoire is attracting large sums of capital investment to travel and tourism. While business tourism and domestic spending continue to represent the largest shares of sector contributions to GDP, there are ambitions to develop leisure tourism and increase international tourist arrivals in coming years. However, additional investment in transport infrastructure and tourism accommodation is required to facilitate access to tourist sites and improve the quality of accommodation in line with international norms. PPPs can help develop specific sector niches such as ecotourism and plantation tourism, and the government’s steady support can boost the development of seaside tourism over time, especially with an increase in security. The continued promotion of Côte d’Ivoire in international tourism fairs and the expected implementation of the sector’s legal framework can help provide a clear course of action in the sector, and highlight the opportunities for investment in Ivorian tourism.

 

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The Report: Côte d'Ivoire 2017

Tourism chapter from The Report: Côte d'Ivoire 2017