Exclusive Interview: Jean-Marie Somet, General Manager, Côte d’Ivoire Tourisme
Côte d’Ivoire is coming back onto the world’s tourism stage and hopes now to turn business travellers to the country into leisure visitors, according to Jean-Marie Somet, General Manager Côte d’Ivoire Tourisme.
2017 was an excellent year for tourism to Côte d’Ivoire, according to Jean-Marie Somet, General Manager of Côte d’Ivoire Tourisme. “We welcomed around 1.5 million tourists last year,” he stressed in an interview. While a majority of tourists are from Africa, particularly from Burkina Faso or Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire is confident to attract tourists from Europe again. “Just six hours away from Paris or Brussels, tourists can experience an authentic African culture. When I say culture, I should say 60 different ways to enjoy cultures due to our different ethnics and different customs. And of course, our natural resources are a major asset with our rainforests and its fauna,” he highlighted.
For Somet, the tourist coming to Côte d’Ivoire will be able to discover the sense of party and festivities, the sense of family, music and gastronomy.
Confidence is back
The country experienced an extraordinary turn-around over the past decade. Earlier in the decade, political turmoil had destabilised the economy and scared investors and travellers. “Violence tarnished our image. But after the country stabilised, we have been working a lot to address problems and give back to locals a sense of pride and confidence,” says Jean-Marie Somet.
Since 2012, economy is growing again and investments are pouring in under the policy of current President, Allassane Ouattara. Priority has been given to infrastructure development while financial incentives have been introduced to attract investors. Ouattara’s vision is to have Côte d’Ivoire enter into the club of developing nations by 2020.
Just six hours away from Paris or Brussels, tourists can experience an authentic African culture.
The renewed safety of the destination has helped welcome large international events. “Last year tourism performance was boosted by international events such as Jeux de la Francophonie or the 5th Summit African Union-European Union. We now wait for the hosting of the Africa Cup of Nations in 2021, which is a major event for the entire continent,” explained Jean-Marie Somet.
“The Africa Cup of Nations will also help boost our infrastructure by creating new roads, stadiums and construct hotels,” adds Somet.
Moving beyond business travel
Abidjan indeed remains the main attraction for business travellers. The country’s economic capital has many luxury and first class hotels, a convention centre with a capacity for 2,800 delegates and a state-of-the art auditorium at Fondation Félix Houphouët Boigny with a capacity for 4,000 delegates.
The city is becoming even more attractive as hotel projects by international chains – Radisson Blu, Hilton, Azalai or Mövenpick- are popping up. In air transport, Côte d’Ivoire just signed an agreement with Spain to have direct flights. New airlines flying to Abidjan are TAP Portugal to Lisbon as well as Ethiopian Airlines to New York.
“We now want to take business travellers to new destinations and let them extend their stay to really enjoy our country beyond Abidjan. The Great Laguna south of Abidjan is perfect for seaside holidays and has many historical and cultural sightseeing. Our National Park Comoé is recognised as one of the best preserved in Africa where visitors can still observe many wild animals. Parc de Taï is another natural asset considered a true paradise for animals. And as I already mentioned we have 60 ethnics, which mean 60 ways for tourists to experience cultures!” stresses Jean-Marie Somet.
Professionals will be able to learn more about Côte d’Ivoire achievements by participating in SITA, the International Tourism Exhibition of Abidjan. Hosted from April 27 to May 1, this travel show welcomes 25 countries, 260 exhibitors and 45,000 visitors. It is the largest travel exhibition organised in West Africa.