BY KESTER KENN KLOMEGAH
Somaliland sun – West Africa tourism destinations remain largely untapped for the huge number of potential Russian tourists whose incomes have steadily grown over the past few years and have shown high interest in touring different parts of the world.
In terms of tourism, the region still remains relatively unknown, primarily due to inadequate information and lack of publicity. Some say the media portrayed the region negatively as Ebola virus infested and all kind of diseases are widespread while others point to frequent attacks by islamic militant groups, such as Boko Haram in Nigeria.
Besides the above mentioned few factors, “West Africa has poor tourism infrastructure and the West African governments and Ministries of Tourism representatives don’t do any marketing to promote destinations or engage the media to change the negative perceptions that have already existed among Russians,” says Felly Mbabazi, Executive Director of Safari Tropical Tours.
Mbabazi told me in an emailed discussion that she didn’t know whether “preferred destinations” would be the best term to use when asked about preferred destinations in the region for Russians, noting further that Russians are great travellers who spend freely on vacations abroad.
Russian population of nearly 148 million is a travelling population, according to Mbabazi, who for nearly 15 years, has directed and organized several group tours to safari in East Africa. East African safari includes Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. Her company also operates tours to South Africa and other southern African countries.
“There are a lot things to be considered in the tourism business and none of the West African countries has these. For example: distance from Moscow, quality infrastructure, reasonable prices, attractions like wildlife, white sandy beaches, gastronomic experience, and most important, tourist safety,” according to Mbabazi.
Nearly fifty Russian tourism directors and experts (who specialized in African tourism) shared the same concerns about the West African region in an emailed survey polled after the South African Tourism Lunch (SATL) held on March 25, 2016. The SATL event was held to present South Africa to top Russian agencies in Moscow.
“In my opinion on a tour of southern region of Africa is the most popular destinations: South Africa (Cape Town, Sun City, National Parks). Almost always added the Victoria falls from both Zambia and Zimbabwe, safaris in Botswana. As for west African countries such as Ghana, this trend is a little hyped in Russia and I think that with the current economic situation, would not be very popular as tourism destinations for Russians,” says Evgeniya Danishevskaya, Leo-Style Tourism Agency.
According to her observations, Russian tourists often visit Senegal in West Africa Senegal. It’s not hard to say why Russians prefer Senegal, primarily for good security, the happy smiles, the wide beaches and clean ocean. But these can be found in Kenya and in South Africa, but that’s what attract tourists to holiday in Senegal, so it’s the variety: desert Lompoul, riot of green plants in the Delta at the Blue Saloon, exotic cruises on the lake Retba, Irina Rodina, Director of The “Kaleidoscope” Travel Agency explained.
The capital really – the Dakar. In addition, all the original culture, fresh prawns, beautiful African women, national parks, great friendliness of the inhabitants. In addition, the gorgeous beaches and the exotic nature. Senegal is known as a supplier of peanuts, also for fantastic fishing, delicious smells, surfing, diving.
For instance in Cape Verde – the European level of service for those who want to relax from civilization, have privacy and explore the underwater world of Islands, attracts windsurfers and those who enjoy great fishing! (Cape Verde is one of five (5) centers of windsurfing and one of the world centers for sport fishing). This is not mass tourism. And in Carbo Verde it is possible to go all year round.
In fact, the country Ghana has never been on the list of most visited countries in the world and for Russians this is no exception. Until recently, Ghana was known as the second in the world exports of cocoa, in the views of Rodina.
Rodina thinks the country is however promising, Ghana “friendship before business.” Despite the low level of hotels and their high cost, tourists like sincere smiling and friendly locals who care much to keep their traditions and strive for civilization. Ghana, Rodina thinks the motto “feel free” – feel free! It will be interesting to visit the modern cities of Ghana, in ancient castles, feel freely the atmosphere of the locals.
Of course, tours to Ghana are considered to be exclusive, but shortly Ghana will be known for medical tourism because the doctors in Ghana receive education abroad, tourists will be able to afford treatment clinics in Ghana with low price and high quality and care. Also cosmetic surgery is one of the first places on the request of tourists-customers. It can also bring massage and treatment on alcoholism and drug dependence.
Tourists may be attracted to Ghana where everything is near: sea, river, and jungle. Many places such as Kakum rainforest is described in the novel, “15-year-old captain” by Jules Verne is also interesting! Ghana is one of the world’s leading exporters of gold and diamonds.
Unfortunately, the West African region is not well advertised. Well to conduct seminars, webinars, promotional tours, conduct training online test, quiz like, for example, Profi.Travel and obtaining certificates, Irina Rodina, Director of The “Kaleidoscope” Travel Agency wrote in media survey.
On her part, Ekaterina Afanasyeva, Chief Executive Officer of Camelot & SC Tourism Agency, pointed out that West Africa for the majority of Russian tourists is not yet exotic as there are many factors that impede tourism business to the region.
She explained further that factors for the development of this trend included absence of a direct flights, frequent reports in the media about Ebola, low information component (the Russian tourists know little about the West African countries) and cumbersome procedures of obtaining visas to this region.
The most famous West African countries are: Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Côte d’Voire, Ghana, Burkina Faso … but unfortunately, it is quite difficult to say how popular these countries are as tourism destinations especially for Russians.
There are possibilities to increase business business there, with proper media advertising, it could become really interesting for Russian tourists.
“To be honest, West Africa is not popular in our company and I think among Russians in general. People think that this part of Africa is dangerous: criminal and epidemic situation is not good and there are no adequate information about these countries at all: where to go, what to see, where to live. People would like to know why they should go to new country,” according to Zlata Borisenko, Sales Manager from SODIS Travel Company.
Tatyana Denisova, Head of the Tropical Africa Section of the Institute for African Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences, wrote in an email media query that “West Africa has not a well developed tourist infrastructure (compared to, for example, with Eastern and southern, not to mention North): not enough hotels located near the beaches, the beaches are ill-equipped (at least those that I saw in Ghana and Nigeria), the problems with urban and tourist transport, a sufficient number of national parks, as far as I know, for various reasons, not organized Safari, much-loved by Russians in Kenya.”
That is the beach and the “natural” recreation are low, and historical and architectural objects that could be of interest to the Africanist and ordinary tourist, are not so many.
From the point of view of infrastructure with the exception, apparently, are Cape Verde and the Gambia. But in Cape Verde, there are no direct flights from Moscow, the flight takes almost a day, the tickets are very expensive, but those Russians who travel there, respond very well and the beaches and hotels, and about the service.
“In the Gambia, Russians rarely traveled, and with the advent of President Jammeh reduced the flow of European tourists there. In addition, Russian tour operators prefer to work with reliable counterparts abroad. These contacts had long been established and are developing between Russian and East African, North African and South African travel agencies, covers are, but as far as I know, not so often,” Denisova explained in her comments.
“Tour operators from these regions attend tourism fairs in Moscow, bring catalogs and brochures, establish personal contacts. I don’t know, maybe because also come representatives of the companies, but I personally, having been on several forums, not a single West African has participated,” she said.
Of course, security issues play an important role, and the relative instability is observed in almost all the countries of the region. From historical and architectural point of view, the greatest interest might represent Nigeria, Ghana, Mali. But in Ghana the situation is quite stable, and in principle, tourism in Ghana could start to develop faster than in other countries, but this should be addressed, Russian tourists, who used to travel in Turkey and the Canaries, were very capricious, Denisovs explained further in her written comments.
In Nigeria, the most interesting areas of the North, exactly where intensified by the Islamists of Boko Haram. In Mali – Timbuktu, Gao and other cities, where I have, in all life dream to visit, but it will probably not happen because it is clear that these areas are permanently closed to tourists.
Denisova believes that Ebola has already ended, although in the minds of Russians these areas are associated with something that is not too comfortable with the medical point of view. The problem of language. After all Turkey and Egypt as well as Greece, Cyprus and other places not only attractive and cheap, but also the fact that none of the tourists, not knowing a single word of English, are visited by huge numbers of Russians. The staff of those hotels, where there is a lot of Russian tourists who usually speaks Russian.
With French-speaking countries are especially hard. If English language as the average Russian knows, the French is knows by only a few. Thus, if anything, Nigeria will always find English speaking Nigerian to help, but I’m not sure that this could happen, for example, in Senegal.
An official from the Russian Federal Tourism Agency suggested in an email response with one question: “Why can the West African governments or the Ministries of Tourism seek corporate partnership with Russian media to promote the region’s tourism potentials to the public here? That could be a huge revenue from tourism business to the national income and a major contribution to the region’s economy.”
West Africa is popularly referred to as the Ecowas region. The Economic Community of West African States is made up of fifteen member countries that are located in the region. These countries have both cultural and geopolitical ties and shared common economic interest.
It is located west of north-south axis lying close to 10° east longitude. The Atlantic Ocean forms the western as well as the southern borders of the region. The northern border is the Sahara desert, with the Ranishanu Bend generally considered the northernmost part of the region. The eastern border lies between the Benue Trough, and a line running from Mount Cameroon to Lake Chad.
The author Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia’s economic cooperation with African countries.