The Report Company: What
do you hope to achieve through trade fairs and events such as
Roger Kacou: ITB is a great platform to promote the destination, to promote the country and to promote the tourism industry. Our main objective coming to ITB was to promote tourism, with a special emphasis on the economic environment that has greatly improved over the last two years. The security levels have also drastically improved. We are coming out of a ten-year period of instability culminating in a war, so it’s very important for us to restore the image of the country. We believe that ITB, as the biggest tourism trade fair in the world, is an ideal platform to send the message that the country is back and we are again ready to welcome foreign visitors for business or for leisure. We have spent a fruitful week in Berlin and we’re going back home satisfied by the tour operators that we’ve met, airline companies that we’ve met and contacts that we’ve made.
TRC: In terms of restoring the image of Cote d’Ivoire, what are the key elements that you would like to highlight?
RK: The security levels. The tourism industry is very sensitive to security issues, especially leisure tourism. Countries the whole world over go through periods of instability. Ukraine was fine a couple of years ago. Today it is not. The same goes for Syria. Cote d’Ivoire was very unstable a few years ago. Now it’s once again a very stable country. These are cycles and the important thing is to reassure the potential visitors that the country is safe and has become stable again.
The second issue is the economy. It is important to know that our country in 2012 had a rate of growth of 9.8 percent, which is quite exceptional. It was the highest in Africa. The figures for 2013 are expected to show again around 9 percent growth, and the forecast for 2014 is for a double-digit growth, so the environment is good. The country is also very interesting for potential investors. We are working on the regulatory environment for investors and our parliament has just adopted a new tourism code – the first since independence. This shows how committed the government, the head of state and the prime minister are about making tourism one of the key sectors of the economy. Cote d’Ivoire aspires to become an emerging country by 2020 and we believe that tourism could be an important element in reaching that very important objective.
TRC: What does Cote d’Ivoire have to offer tourists?
RK: We have 550km of coast with beautiful beaches, which are always of interest to German tourists. We also have certain very special niches that we are now developing. We have cultural tourism, we have eco-tourism and we have religious tourism. We have the biggest basilica in the world in Yamoussoukro, the political capital. We also have a very old mosque in the north of the country. We also have tourism linked to sport, such as golf and fishing. The country is very rich in the famous blue marlin; a 480kg blue marlin was caught in Cote D’Ivoire, which is still today a world record.
We are also developing tourism linked to agriculture. The country is primarily an agricultural country. It’s the world’s number one in cocoa production, and number one in Africa in banana, palm oil, pineapple and rubber. While we have of course discovered oil, gas, bauxite and manganese primarily we are an agricultural country and we believe that the visitors from the west are interested in learning about these natural products. We’re looking to develop some circuits around plantations. This would be for us the differentiator versus other destinations.
TRC: What are the priorities for improving tourism infrastructure?
RK: The department of tourism cannot do tourism on its own. You need the flights to take you to your destination, and once you are there you need proper roads to move around. You need hotels and medical facilities. We are adding some infrastructure in Abidjan, the commercial capital, and in the interior of the country. In the interior, because of the crisis many hotels have become run down so our priority is to renovate all those hotels. For the commercial capital of Abidjan there are a lot of new hotel projects. By the end of 2014 there will be 1,200 additional hotel rooms in the city. Westin are about to start construction, and we have the Hilton and the Intercontinental trying to get a foothold in Abidjan. We also have some regional companies arriving, because Abidjan is now the place to be economically and the potential is great.
The government has also embarked on a lot of road infrastructure. We have four airports in the interior of the country that are right now being rehabilitated and they will be functional by the third trimester of this year.
TRC: Which are going to be your key tourism markets for 2014?
RK: The traditional key market for Cote d’Ivoire is France because of the historical ties and the language. We are working on reinforcing this market along with other French-speaking European countries like Belgium and Switzerland. We are also working on Spain and Portugal, and then obviously Germany which is a massive market with huge potential. We have a daily connection with Germany through Brussels Airlines, which belongs partly to Lufthansa, via Brussels. Those main European cities are of great interest to us. Obviously we will in a second phase look at markets like Russia and China. For the US market, we are competing with countries like Senegal and Ghana because these two countries are bases where the slaves left the west coast to go to North America. African Americans who visit Afria primarily will think of going back to their roots. The airport in Abidjan is about to be certified by the US Federal Aviation Authority, so from that point we will be able to have direct flights to New York and Houston and this will boost the traffic.
TRC: What are your biggest challenges?
RK: Cote d’Ivoire used to be one of the most promising countries in Africa. The economy was booming. It was making progress and it was known on the international scene as a haven of peace and stability. In fact, it was known as the most stable country in Africa. Then in 1999 there was a military coup which nobody expected. From then the whole thing went wrong. Now we are just trying to get back to where we were. The good thing is that we are not starting from scratch, just trying to return to the way things were before. We are lucky in that now we have a very stable government and a strong head of state working on good governance. We are working on eliminating corruption which is also a big problem worldwide. Our head of state was a senior figure in the IMF for years and years. He has been preaching good governance to all the countries in the world and now he’s implementing it locally, so the government is at work. The country is back and this is the message we are trying to send.
TRC: How would you like the Cote d’Ivoire brand to be defined?
RK: Cote d’Ivoire is a booming place. There’s so much going on; the oil sector, agriculture, mining and all the new projects being launched. There has been a lot of confidence placed in the country by the banking sector and by the international finance institutions. Cote d’Ivoire is a vibrant place economically. A lot of investors are interested in looking at it. They come and see what the opportunities are and we have them. Abidjan’s hotel rooms are fully booked by the business community. It’s a vibrant place.
TRC: On a personal level, what do you most want to achieve by the end of your period in government?
RK: I’ve been in the private sector all my life. I joined government a year and a half ago. This means that I have experience from both sides. I am fortunate today to be in a position to work on the legal environment, because working in a country where there is no legal system or proper governance is very challenging. The objective for us has been to work on a general tourism policy for the country, and that has now been adopted. We have worked on the tourism code and we’re trying to get some specifics added to the investment code that are specifically related to tourism. We are going to work on the fiscal level, on VAT and touristic development taxes to make sure that for the potential investor the conditions are there to make a sound investment. We want to create the right conditions for potential investors and I believe we have made a lot of progress on this within the last 12 months. We are on track.
TRC: What would be your final message about Cote d’Ivoire?
RK: Cote d’Ivoire is back and we are again keen to welcome visitors in a safe, pleasant, hospitable environment. We invite the whole world to come and enjoy the country.