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Gabon: Gabon Tourism Profile

2015/03/13

 

Gabon: Going upscale

International airlines bring new dynamism to travel and tourism

Two prestigious international airlines brought new vitality to travel and tourism with the introduction of increased flight schedules. This resulted in improved performance for the Gabonese travel and tourism market. Most notably, in 2013, Turkish Airlines, which offers flights to a wide range of nations across the world, added the 97th country to its network by offering flights to Libreville, the capital of Gabon, and its major city. Flights were available each three days between the Turkish capital of Istanbul and Libreville. Air France followed the same strategy by providing daily flights between Libreville and Charles de Gaulle, Paris.

Ecotourism: the new trend in Gabon

Located on the west coast of central Africa, Gabon may not be known for being home to the best road infrastructure and accommodation in the world, although undoubtedly it is home to a huge range of attractions that draw people from across the globe. With its huge range of environmental bio-diversity, tourists travel from far and wide to experience the country’s remarkable wildlife, landscape and scenery, stunning beaches, dynamic cities and favourable weather. These factors and a lot of additional boosted tourism in Gabon, allowing visitors to interact with nature, and practise extreme sports and adventure.

Gabonese government to invest over US$85 million in tourist development

The National Infrastructure Master Plan 2011 to 2016 is worth over US$11 billion and comprises of 21 major projects. Its aim is to develop a new infrastructure to support the socio-economic increase of Gabon. This includes new roads, railways, ports and other transport infrastructure. Under the Gabonese Master Plan, over US$85 million will be channelled into the development of tourism, and the exciting shift in dynamics created by this public initiative continued to improve the performance of the Gabonese travel and tourism market.

Raw materials attract business travellers

Gabon is home to an exceptionally diverse and accessible range of natural resources, inclunding petroleum, iron, diamond, gold, timber and uranium. With such diversity comes considerable opportunity for investment from across the world, inclunding the exploration of these natural resources. The vast, un-tapped potential of Gabon and its natural resources contributed massively to the number of new visitors to the country, offering lucrative investment opportunities available to savvy international businesses.

Crime: problematic in some areas

While a positive performance was observed in Gabonese travel and tourism, security and the threat of crime remained a major threat to its continuing development. Even in major cities, such as Libreville, the police force was stretched and under-equipped. Tourists were advised to remain in cities, rather than venture out alone, meaning that a lot of were restricted in terms of their travel experience, potentially missing out on exploring the wider countryside, its scenery and culture. This issue limited the potential increase of tourism in Gabon.

In line with the government’s strategy of boosting tourism revenues and capitalising on the country’s biodiversity, Gabon has recently held negotiations with a pair of high-end ecotourism developers to increase the amount of accommodation on offer in the country’s additional remote and pristine areas.

The national has increasingly sought to transform the relatively modest flow of visitors into a additional sustainable contributor to economic diversification. In mid-March President Ali Bongo Ondimba met with Adrian Zecha, the chairman of Amanresorts International, in Libreville to discuss the options for developing Gabon’s upscale tourism offering. The Singapore-based company, which was founded in 1988, manages 24 luxury resorts worldwide.

Gabon’s National Agency for National Parks (Agence Nationale des Parcs Nationaux, ANPN) presented a number of potential development sites around the country during the conference , although the hotel group already has its plans set for its first resort on Le Phare de Gombe beach, 20 km from Libreville. The project will consist of 20 luxury villas and is set to open in January 2012. Another Amanresort projects are planned at Kangou Water Falls, 80 km east of Libreville, and Hippo Beach in Loango National Park.

Amanresorts is not the only firm looking to establish a larger profile in Gabon’s high-end and niche tourism sectors. Sustainable Forestry Management Africa, a Mauritius-based land management and timber company, is currently negotiating with the Gabonese government to launch a series of ecotourism resorts in national parks across the country as part of a joint timber harvest and tourism investment to upgrade tourism infrastructure and as well allow for additional sustainable management of resources through controls on illegal deforestation and reduced-impact logging.

According to local news sources, the planned investment, which would potentially reach CFA50bn (€76m), would be half handled in cooperation with the ANPN as part of a broader initiative to bring luxury lodgings to Gabon’s additional far-flung national parks.

There are a number of opportunities for further expansion in Gabon’s ecotourism sector, particularly given the large swathes of the country that are currently protected from real estate development or extractive industries. In a speech given in March, President Ondimba stated that “conserving our natural environment while not limiting economic opportunities for our people is our challenge.”

Certainly the sheer amount of land, combined with Gabon’s relatively small and concentrated people of 1.5m, provides something of a blank slate for determined foreign investors. Some 80% of Gabon is covered by equatorial rainforest, of which 11% is designated as national parkland.

A key element of the government’s drive to increase visitor numbers and improve revenues from niche tourism sectors is the ANPN itself, which was established in 2007 to promote ecotourism and boost related visitor numbers from 2000 to 3000 per year to 100,000 pear year by 2020. Currently, business visitors to the country’s urban centres of Libreville, Port-Gentil and Franceville generate the majority revenue.

The ANPN, in cooperation with environmental non-governmental organisations the Wildlife Conservation Society and Muyissi Environnement, has recently launched an awareness campaign on the importance of protecting the national parks in the southern province of Ngounié. The ANPN has before participated in high-end projects such as Africa’s Eden Lodge in Loango Park, a €15m investment, despite its recent closure due to a disagreement with Gabonese authorities.

Furthermore, in February the government received a €7m grant from World Environment Facility, an international financing instrument, to improve fiscal management of the country’s 13 national parks, which cover 15% of Gabon’s equatorial forest. The donation will go toward setting up a website to increase the profile of the country’s national parks and promote related tourism.

The increasing emphasis on ecotourism is part of Gabon’s desire to boost in general visitor numbers and increase the contribution of tourism to GDP, which has been at a relatively low 3% average in recent years. The national aims to boost this figure to 10% of GDP by 2013. Capitalising on niche tourism, particularly high-end ecotourism, will be challenging at a time when major tourist markets are still climbing out of the world recession, but if Gabon is able to increase its supply of related offerings it will be well placed to profit from the expected increase in visitor numbers.

Gabon: Tapping into tourism

The reopening in December of of Gabon’s most famous national parks, plus the introduction of a new mechanism to measure tourism’s performance, should allow operators to better support and encourage increase in a sector that is being increasingly tapped to help diversify the economy away from energy.
Africa’s Eden, Loango National Park’s primary tourism operator, recently announced that the park’s lodge and satellite camps will reopen December 15 after having been closed since September 2010 due to discussions with the government regarding air travel to the region. Now that transport difficulties have been resolv' ;%߈Zh8LE' ;%߈Zhen and the national want to establish Loango Lodge as Gabon’s leading ecotourism and safari destination.
 
13 national parks created by former president Omar Bongo in 2002, Loango is a coastal park covering 1550 sq km and known for its diverse, well-preserved environment and abundant wildlife, including elephants, buffalo, plains gorillas and chimpanzees. The park garnered international attention prior to its closing in 2010, winning the British Guild of Travel Writer’s Award for the best overseas tourism project in 2008 and being named a finalist in the National Geographic Changemakers 2008 Geotourism Challenge.
 
Africa’s Eden hopes to continue the park’s previous success and expects operations to pick up rapidly, with a goal of 10,000 annual overnight stays by 2012. In preparation, tourism facilities are being extensively renovated prior to the reopening, including refurbishment of guest rooms and public spaces at the major Loango Lodge. Satellite camps at Pointe Sainte Catherine Beach and Tassi Savannah will as well be modernised, and other satellite facilities, Evengué Lodge and Akaka Bush Camp, will be entirely refurbished and launched as high-end safari accommodations.
 
The challenge of actually getting visitors to the park is as well being addressed: the landing strip at Loango Lodge will be resurfaced and lengthened to 1000 metres to allow for direct flights from Libreville and Port-Gentil. Amount of the work going into the park is expected to generate 130 jobs, making it the region’s top employer.
But renewed activity in Loango should as well have knock-on effects on the entire industry, boosting tourism promotion efforts in the country’s other national parks. Currently, tourism promotion efforts are focused on business travel to Libreville and the economic capital of Port-Gentil. As the national looks to diversify Gabon’s largely petroleum-dependent economy, however, ecotourism presents a increase opportunity given the country’s rich environment and the 11% of total territory dedicated to national parks.
To this end, Gabonese authorities are working to increase high-end ecotourism offerings in remote areas of the country. While ecotourism will not replace income from the petroleum industry, it should have significant benefits for economic development and human resources training in rural areas.
 
Indeed, the overhaul of the Loango Lodge is only part of the national’s ambitious medium-term goals for the tourism sector. The industry currently provides about 20,000 direct and indirect jobs, and Gabonese authorities hope to raise this to 30,000 within years with increased ecotourism activities. The Ministry of Tourism registered 100,000 visitors between 2006 and 2011, and hopes to see double the number of arrivals by 2020.
To achieve this, Gabon launched a Tourism Satellite Account (Compte Satellite du Tourisme, CST) in July 2011. The CST, which has been conducting preliminary surveys and research since June 2008, will gather detailed data on tourism activities, including visitor characteristics, trip purposes, and particular goods and services used.
The CST should provide a additional accurate, in-depth picture of sector operations, inclunding performance indicators to inform strategic planning, policies and investment. Conventional wisdom has long held that tourism makes up approximately 3% of GDP, but a preliminary survey completed by the CST in June 2010 indicated the sector may contribute closer to 6%. Authorities hope to boost this to 10% by 2013.
 
The UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) estimates emerging economies will continue to increase their international tourism market share in coming years. An October 2011 statement by the UNWTO estimates that by 2015 emerging economies will see additional international arrivals than advanced economies do, and that by 2030 they will represent 58% of the world tourism market. The UNWTO expects Africa to move from a 5% market share in 2010 to 7% in 2030.
The Gabonese government has set ambitious goals for developing the tourism industry, particularly by showcasing the country’s biodiversity through ecotourism. The 2012 Africa Cup of Nations football tournament, co-hosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, will provide an additional opportunity to capitalise on an influx of visitors. Improved measurement and decision-making tools from the CST should prove a significant help in Gabon’s effort to increase the tourism sector’s offerings and its contribution to GDP.
 
Analyse of the sector 29/11/2010
 
Travel and tourism as a tool for economic diversification
Until recent years, the travel and tourism industry in Gabon had been neglected as the government relied heavily on revenues from the export of raw materials such as oil and timber. However, a significant decline in export revenue triggered by the world recession has forced the government to incorporate tourism into its economic diversification plan. To this end, luxury tourism and niche tourism products, such as ecotourism, are being developed. In an attempt to encourage investment and stimulate the development of tourism in the country, a series of measures have been taken by the government. Through these efforts, the small West African country could become a leading tourist destination and simultaneously solve its revenue problems.
 
Prioritising the development of digital infrastructure
 
Gabon’s internet and broadband infrastructure is about to improve significantly as the government is in the process of implementing a project that will make broadband internet connections viable throughout the country. Due to the poor geographical reach of the existing fixed-line networks, increase in internet access has thus far been largely confined to urban centres at the expense of rural areas. As of 2009, just 15% of the country’s people had access to the internet, with the majority of these using mobile phones due to the high price of computers. In order to bring cheaper and additional reliable internet services to its citizens, the government has prioritised the development of Data and Communication Technologies (ICT) and is encouraging investment in ICT infrastructure. In December 2009, it signed a memorandum of understanding with Microsoft on the development of the country’s digital economy. The introduction of new technologies will be vital to Gabon fully realising its economic potential and the development of tourism.
 
Sustainable management of local ecotourism
 
Gabon is increasingly becoming a presence on the world stage due to its practices in forest conservation and its sustainable use of natural resources. With a stunning variety of flora and fauna, the country has the potential to become an significant destination for wildlife enthusiasts around the world. The government is aware of the benefits of ecotourism to the economy and visitors alike, and, as such, has taken steps to protect Gabon’s natural endowments by encouraging the sustainable development of ecotourism in the country. In 2002, it moved to protect Gabon’s 13 national parks, which occupy about 11% of the country’s surface area. This network of parks offers Gabon the opportunity to combine sustainable development with the preservation of its biodiversity. Furthermore, a project dubbed Green Gabon has been launched by President Ali Bongo Ondimba, in a bid to showcase the country’s rich biodiversity while at the same time preserving it. The project is expected to lead to the valorisation of the “green oil”, which Gabon’s magnificent ecosystem constitutes. Through its environmentally-friendly approach, the country hopes to position itself as a pioneer of the green economy.
 
Planned construction of new international airport to boost air travel
 
There are currently three international airports in Gabon, at Libreville, Port-Gentil and Franceville. As part of the country’s major infrastructure development project, the government is planning to build a new international airport at Malibe to replace the existing Libreville International Airport. With a longer and wider runway, the new airport is envisaged as being able to accommodate larger capacity aircrafts, such as the Airbus A380 and Boeing B747-400. The construction and operation of the airport, which is expected to generate additional jobs, will as well allow Gabon to receive a better number of international flights and meet new world aviation security standards. According to the Gabonese authorities, air traffic at Libreville is currently estimated at 700,000 passengers a year. However, this number is expected to reach over million visitors by 2030, with a lot of of them attracted by ecotourism activities in Gabon.