Paz Casal, Africa tourism analyst at Euromonitor International, stated that despite the fact that tourism in Gabon is still in its infancy, the government’s strategy has a lot of potential.
“Despite the government’s ambitions to develop tourism, the previous plans did not materialise. But this new, current plan has a lot of potential and it looks quite optimistic because the difference is concentrating more on the economic benefits that can be gained from conservation and the sector’s development,” Casal told CNBCafrica.com.
“Another major plus compared to previous plans is the small legacy that was left from the 2012 African Cup of Nations football event. They made a lot of renovations to outdoor facilities in cities such as Libreville and Franceville [and] they introduced a new accommodation star rating system before the event. This will potentially bring to success the new strategy.”
Casal added that the country’s new infrastructure master plan comprises 21 major projects aimed at mobilising infrastructure to support the socio-economic growth of Gabon.
GABON'S ECO-TOURISM APPEAL
Eighty-five million US dollars has also been allocated to the development of the tourism sector and plans are underway to improve resorts around the country’s national parks.
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“Gabon has superb wildlife that makes it an increasingly popular place for safaris. Several national parks are also home to unique wildlife. This natural heritage is a great opportunity for the sector with a growing global demand for unique experiences to get close to nature,” said Casal.
“If the current government’s plans are put into practice, we can expect tourist numbers to increase at a greater pace in the mid to long term.”
THE INCREASE IN TOURIST ARRIVALS
According to Euromonitor International, a London-based market research firm, international tourist arrivals to Gabon increased by 2.3 per cent in 2013 from the previous year.
“The majority of tourists are coming from neighbouring countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon. These visitors together account for approximately 32 per cent of arrivals,” Casal explained.
“Visitors from Cameroon represent the largest market source with 17.5 per cent. This is due to [it] being a neighbouring country as well as the establishment of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS).”
GABON AS A BUSINESS DESTINATION
While Gabon has great potential as a world eco-tourism destination, its business prospects are also quite strong with business tourists representing as much as 84 per cent of all arrivals in 2013.
“It’s a country rich in natural resources and there’s a large number of business travellers from many developed countries. The government hopes that it will help establish the country as a regional destination for luxury tourism, and it will increase the length of the stay of business tourists,” Casal stated.
“To become a popular tourist destination, Gabon will have to build a strong national brand. Security and the threat of crime still remain a major threat to its development. Even in major cities such as Libreville, the police force is underequipped – this limits the potential growth of [the] tourism market.”
IMPROVING GABON'S TRANSPORT NETWORKS
Casal added that growth in tourism will also be largely dependent on the expansion of Gabon’s transport networks.
“Currently, over 20 airlines fly to Libreville but, regionally, more African airlines are needed in order to increase tourist arrivals from the neighbouring regions. It is also expected that competition will continue to rise in the air transport market with local operators seeking to control the internal market,” she said.
“In terms of infrastructure, the port and airports project is paying attention to the modernisation of infrastructure. With tourism still in its infancy, there’s a lot of work to be done.”
TOURISM AND ITS EFFECT ON GDP
However, the country is making steady progress. The direct contribution of travel and tourism in Gabon to GDP stood at 1.2 per cent in 2013 and is forecast to rise by 9.5 per cent in this year.
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“Euromonitor predicts that the number of tourists will grow by compound annual growth of 3.5 per cent over the next five years. This will be driven by the development of government initiatives, an improvement in infrastructure, expansion in the hotel industry and greater international connectivity,” Casal said.
“Business arrivals are expected to continue to represent the majority of arrivals in Gabon, mainly due to the relevance of the country as a destination for economic investments. If the current government’s plans are put into practice, Gabon does have the potential to become a top tourist destination in the mid to long term.”