- The tourism sector in Senegal is alarmed by "catastrophic" trends and urges the government to start investing in the crumbling sector. Senegal is still one of West Africa's main tourist destinations, but a run-down infrastructure has turned recent growth into a 25 percent decline during the current season.
COPITS, the Senegalese tourism sector's employers association, at a press conference in Dakar today announced "catastrophic" results for the beginning of this year's tourism season. According to the association, Senegalese hotels were registering a 25 percent drop in visitors this season, being far below the industry's capacity.
COPITS representatives complained over the high costs for tourist visiting Senegal, which only had increased during the last years. While taxes, water, electricity and telephone costs had increased, nothing had been invested in the sector's infrastructure. According to COPITS, the competing destinations Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco now were far more attractive to tourists due to lower prices and better connections.
The association complains that the current government of President Abdoulaye Wade has done little to promote or even maintain the tourism industry. Most of the big hotel and other tourism complexes are some 20 years old, run-down and "do not meet the expectations of the visitors."
Senegal's main attractions face the same problems. Saint-Louis, a charming old French colonial town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, now makes a vastly neglected and run down impression. The southern Casamance province still faces civil unrest and hotel complexes here are relatively run-down. The "Petite Côte" south of Dakar is changing from a luxury resort into a destination famed for child prostitution.
The Senegalese tourism sector has faced a series of negative articles in the French press, mainly focusing on sex tourism in Senegal. The Paris daily 'Le Monde' in January compared Dakar's coast with Bangkok. The Dakar daily 'Wal Fadjri' is now complaining about what it calls a negative "campaign by French media," being responsible for the decline in visitors. This "very negative" image given in the French press was also deplored by COPITS today.
But also the sector and Senegalese Tourism Minister Ousmane Masseck Ndiaye have been scared by the recent growth of sex tourism in the poor West African country. As prostitution and paedophile networks increasingly are being unveiled, a campaign to counter these trends is being elaborated.
COPITS however maintains that it is the Dakar government's responsibility to improve the dire situation. The new downfall in tourist arrivals proved that visitors now were reacting to the lack of development of the sector, the association held. President Wade in 2002 had promised to invest in the sector, pronouncing the aim of receiving 1.5 million tourists in Senegal in 2010. Last year, Senegal only registered some 500,000 visitors.
This year, preliminary results indicate, Senegal may only receive some 350,000 tourists. The negative trends, according to the tourism sector's stakeholders, were proof that the Wade government was not sticking to its promises.
The recently presented statistics of hotel bookings in the first part of this year's tourism season indicate a decline of 25 percent for Senegal as a whole. In Saint-Louis, a 30 to 35 percent decline was registered, with corresponding numbers for Thiès being 20-25 percent and for the Casamance region 25-30 percent.
These numbers from the sector are however contested by official statistics presented a few weeks ago by the Dakar government. The government says that tourism in the troubled Casamance region had increased by 62 percent compared to last year. Local hoteliers are reporting full coverage.
Before 1982, the short coastline of the fertile and exotic Casamance region was the centre of Senegalese tourism infrastructure investments. Large luxury hotel complexes attracted charter tourism, flying in directly from France. The region has however been relatively unsafe as rebels have fought for independence since 1982. A peace deal with the main rebel group was recently reached, providing hope for a new tourism boom.
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