Political football: Hosting the CAN has brought benefits beyond the world of sport

The year 2012 has been a memorable one for Gabon so far, co-hosting with Equatorial Guinea football’s African Cup of Nations (Coupe d’Afrique des Nations, CAN), one the world’s most important sporting events, for the first time in its history.

FACILITIES: The country spent two years preparing to welcome fans, players and the media for the 28th CAN. With a budget of €155m, projects to build and upgrade sporting and hotel facilities, and improve transport links, were accelerated, albeit with the occasional hiccup, allowing Gabon to meet requirements imposed by the Confederation of African Football (Confederation Africaine de Football, CAF). The government pressed ahead with modernisation of Libreville’s Léon M’Ba International Airport. The National Agency for Public Works (Agence Nationale des Grand Travaux, ANGT) helped build 70 km of roads, bus networks run by the national transport company were expanded and three Boeing aircraft were hired for travel between sites.

Sports facilities were also enhanced. The Friendship Stadium in Libreville, with a seating capacity of 40,000, was built in 22 months with the help of the China’s Shanghai Construction Group, and the Renovation Stadium in Franceville, built in 2005, was rehabilitated, boosting its capacity to 20,000.

ACCOMMODATION: While the CAN gave a push to the government’s programme of construction and infrastructure rehabilitation, it also focused attention on the hospitality sector, which the government is committed to expanding under its tourism development policy. Existing hotels underwent renovation, and new facilities were built to accommodate CAN participants and fans. Hotels with sports halls and swimming pools were built for the footballers close to the training stadiums in Libreville and in Haut-Ogooué Province. Two hotels were built to host some of the 550 visiting journalists and photographers.

The CAN also triggered the revival of mid-range accommodation. With business tourists having traditionally accounted for the largest number of visitors, most of the focus had been on developing high-end accommodation, with the mid-range segment lagging behind. High costs at the country’s main hotels and the arrival of the CAN gave Gabon a reason to boost mid-range hotel capacity. A standard single room at Okoume Palace Hotel or Le Mé ridien, for instance, costs €195 and €192, respectively. Therefore, developing the mid-range segment was key to achieving the total of 5000 rooms required by the CAF. The government – with support from the ANGT – helped build six new three-star Héliconia hotels in and around the main cities hosting the tournament, with a capacity of 50-70 rooms per hotel. Two were built in Libreville in Angondje and Nzeng-Ayong, and four in Haut-Ogooué Province, in Franceville, Bongoville, Moanda and Ngouoni.

The National Hotel and Tourism Organisation, which was established in 2012, will be responsible for the management of these newly created hotels. As for private operators, new arrivals included the three-star French Onomo Hotel, which opened its doors in January 2012 with 118 rooms. The chain has 13 projects planned across the continent.

LONG-TERM BENEFITS: The tournament helped accelerate projects in a range of sectors and generated 50,000 direct and indirect jobs. Around 400 direct long-term jobs were created in the hotel and catering sector. Facilities built or renovated for the CAN will be of long-term benefit to the country, with renovated hotels and newly built mid-range hotels expected to be used for the ecotourism sector.

The CAN also lifted the country’s profile internationally. Viewers worldwide had their eyes on Gabon for three weeks, while some 185,645 tickets were sold in Libreville and 49,758 in Franceville. Despite the deficiencies that the government is still looking to address in many sectors, the country lived up to the challenges of hosting the CAN, highlighting its ambition and commitment to achieve its goals.

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The Report: Gabon 2012

Tourism chapter from The Report: Gabon 2012

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