If Côte d’Ivoire strengthened business tourism in Abidjan over recent years, its leisure tourism potential remained largely untapped. Four locations listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites and a rich biodiversity are some of the assets boosting niche tourism segments such as ecotourism, agro-tourism, sport and culture.
Endowed with diverse natural capital comprising beaches, forests and mangroves, Côte d’Ivoire offers considerable potential for the development of ecotourism offerings. There are eight national parks and six natural reserves spanning 21,038 sq km, or 6.53% of the country. These natural areas protect a diverse range of fauna such as rhinoceros and giraffes in the Aboukouamékro reserve, and the chimpanzees in Taï Park. There are also 17 botanical reserves and over 250 classified forests home to 2800 plant species. Six protected Ivorian areas form part of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance and three are UNESCO World Heritage sites. “Ecotourism is little-known by Ivorians,” Marcel Gougou Kouadio, chairman of the board of directors of the Ivorian Network for Tourism and Agro-tourism, told OBG.
The government have developed protected areas and made the respect of local populations and natural heritage a landmark point of the tourism code, which was published in 2014. “Efforts are under way to direct the tourism policy in favour of ecotourism development in Côte d’Ivoire,” Kouadio added.
As the world’s top producer of cacao and home to many rural communities, there is significant potential to develop the agro-tourism segment. “We have a tourism route which follows the production, transformation and the marketing of the product, but most people don’t know about it,” Isabelle Segbenou, head of the tourism department of AFRIC Voyages, a local tour and travel agency, told OBG. “There are many ecotourism sites ripe for development but the investments are yet to manifest.” Another challenge is that the development of ecotourism and agro-tourism is hampered by a lack of access. “There is a real problem of access to these parks, but efforts are under way to make them more accessible,” Kouadio told OBG. “The first thing we need to do is to set up the required infrastructure, which in turn will play an important role in extending the length of stay of visitors. The majority of ecotourists currently stay only one day,” Kouadio added. Additionally, Kouadio told OBG that currently only the Taï National Park is equipped to accommodate tourists for several days, noting that outside national parks, many natural sites are yet to be developed.
The private sector plays an active role in the development of ecotourism as demonstrated by the CFA1bn (€1.5m) given to the Ivorian Office of Parks and Reserves (Office Ivoirien des Parcs et Réserves, OIPR) by the Foundation for Parks and Reserves of Côte d’Ivoire for the preservation of the Taï, Comoé, Azagny and Mont Sangbé national parks in February 2018. This role is set to be increasingly important as the government is working on the concession of national parks to private players such as in the Azagny National Park. “There are concessions currently being set up between the OIPR and private operators,” Kouadio told OBG.
Other segment markets with potential for development include sports tourism. Located in the Gulf of Guinea and with 590 km of south-facing coastline, Côte d’Ivoire benefits from favourable conditions and year-round waves. Assinie-Mafia is one of the most popular surf spots, along with Monogaga, Grand-Lahou, Sassandra and Dabego. As surfers increasingly look for unspoiled spots, and while other popular surf destinations become more saturated, there is significant potential for the development of this niche segment in Côte d’Ivoire. While still in its infancy, some surfing schools have emerged in recent years, notably in Assinie where the Kame Surf Camp and School organises the annual Kame Surf Contest, whose 2014 edition attracted 60 national and international competitors.
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