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Dakar, Senegal’s business tourism hub

The city of Dakar, Senegal’s economic motor, is a key destination in terms of business tourism. The Senegalese capital stands out for its upscale hotel supply that has been growing steadily since 2009, despite a difficult context generated by the economic crisis and the Ebola virus epidemic in Africa in 2014. In order to manage this situation, Senegalese authorities recently implemented a dedicated plan of action to boost the country’s economy and valorize its tourist activity.

As the political, economic and cultural capital of the Republic of Senegal, the city of Dakar is located on the peninsula of Cap Vert at Africa’s westernmost extremity. This cosmopolitan metropole, that has been a port of commerce for the European and American continents through the ages, concentrates 25% of the country’s population (14,673,000 in 2014 according to World Bank) and 80% of the country’s economic activities. As a port of entry to Senegal, Dakar’s location encouraged the settlement of the first colonists, as well as its industrial development, particularly thanks to its portuary and tertiary activities. The port authority of Dakar (PAD) is the third largest port in West Africa in terms of transit. Moreover, many multinational headquarters (Bolloré Africa Logistics, Sanofi, Eiffage, Total, Orange, Société Générale…) are now located in the center of town.

Several economic projects are under development, including the possible construction of the West African Business Center and the implementation of the Diamniado international conference center and have a vocation to strengthen the capital’s appeal to businesses. The construction of the Diamniado center should make Dakar the city that is the point of reference for the organization of international congresses in the region of West Africa. Compared with other, competing cities –Abidjan for example– Dakar enjoys political stability, geographic proximity to Europe, and quality reception infrastructures, the city has been positioned for a decade or so as the regional hub for business tourism. The organization of events with an international reach such as the African Contemporary Art Biennale (Dak’Art) – one of the leading contemporary African art events – contributes to promoting this destination’s success with business travelers. The presence of major NGOs and national institutions (UN, ECOWAS, IMF…) leading to the organization of many international conventions and events also plays an essential role in the development of this activity. 95% of business tourism and events in the country are concentrated in the city of Dakar, and 5% of tourists travel there for conferences.


Leisure tourism has not met with the same success. On the one hand tourist arrivals in the country have been down for the past few years, particularly since the Ebola epidemic that hit several African countries (not including Senegal) in 2014 and 2015. According to the Ministry of Tourism and Air Transport in the country, tourist arrivals at the Léopold S. Senghor airport dropped by 25 % during the first quarter 2015, compared with 2014. This situation led to the development of Emergent Senegal Plan (PSE), which was implemented by authorities in 2014 in order to revalorize the potential of culture and tourism in Senegal, as well as agriculture and energy. Several measures have been implemented within this program, such as the visa waver program in 2013. Its goal is to reach 3 million tourists in 2023, with an intermediate level of 2 million in 2018, placing Senegal among the top 5 African countries. While these results are difficult to achieve (the number of non-resident arrivals at the airport is fewer than 500,000 in 2012 according to the ANSD), they are generally positive. Authorities estimate the country’s growth was around 5% in 2016. Tourist arrivals in the 2nd and 3rd quarter 2015 in particular have grown by 15 and 25% compared with 2014, according to the minister. The project for the new International Aeroport Blaise Diagne (AIBD) in Ndiass, 45 km south east of Dakar, is one of the important levers for tourism development in Senegal. Thanks to this new airport, the government hopes to make the region of Dakar become the reference for airline platforms. Nonetheless, it currently has a negative impact on tourist arrivals in the country because of the high airport taxes that are expected to finance its construction. Begun in 2007, works should be complete at the end of 2017. Today’s tourism clientele arriving at the Léopold Sédar Senghor Airports are predominantly northern European, and French in particular because of the countries’ shared history over the years. In 2016, French tourists represented 44% of the market, versus 33% for African tourists (11% of which are Senegalese) and 4% Americans, according to the ANSD. Because of its status as administrative capital and economic leader, the city also attracts visitors from around the world. 


Meanwhile, in addition to the drop in the number of foreign visitors to Senegal overall, the city of Dakar also appears to suffer from a lack of appeal at its tourist sites that had been neglected to the benefit of other places in the country that are propitious to mass tourism such as beach resorts on the Petite Côte south of the region. Leisure tourists represent only 10% of hotel reservations in Dakar, versus 90% for business travelers; a large share of tourists leave the city upon arrival, according to a study by MKG Consulting. The capital nonetheless relies on certain key cultural sites, such as the Island of Gorée, which is on Unesco’s World Heritage List.

This symbolic place in the history of slavery, is home to a certain number of museums including the House of Slaves, which is a particularly popular tourist site. The most popular sites in the city also include the presidential palace, The Théodore Monod African Art Museum dedicated to the arts and traditions of West Africa, the markets in Sandaga, Tilène and Kermel and also the Grand Mosque. The craftsmen’s village of Soumédioune and the Mamelles (two hills made of volcanic rock) also attract visitors.

These hills also serve as bases for the tallest lighthouse in Africa and for the Monument to the African Renaissance, a statue 50 meters tall inaugurated in 2010. It was commissioned by former president Abdoulaye Wade to offer the city a new tourist attraction.

Mosque of the Divinity

To make up for the slump in leisure tourism, Dakar thus relies on business tourism with the organization of many events (congresses, conferences, seminars…). The city therefore focuses on an upscale hotel supply in order to accommodate this particularly demanding clientele. According to the Ministère du Tourisme et des Transports Aériens (MTTA), its hotel supply included 97 properties in 2016, of which 64 hotels for a total of 3,619 rooms, and 33 para-hotel units. The total number of keys is 3989, for an average of 41 rooms per property. These figures should grow in the years to come, thanks to an additional 25,000 beds nationwide through the Emergent Senegal Plan. Dakar’s current hotel supply includes 14 hotels with more than 100 rooms or a total of 2,768 keys. Most properties in the city are concentrated in Plateau-Dakar, which is the historic center (34.6 %), the Almadies, a coastal area near the airport (30.5 %), and Fann, another coastal area recently reorganized (12.9 %). The 2-star segment has 7 properties for a total of 216 rooms, or 5.4% of the global supply, according to HotelCompSet and the MTTA. 3-star properties represent 38.3% of the total number of rooms, with 36 properties for 1,528 keys. This is the segment with the strongest representation. The 4-star category includes 13 properties for 975 rooms, or 24.4% of Dakar’s supply. Four 5-star hotels currently account for a total of 900 rooms, or 23% of the total number of keys. Finally, the para-hotel supply concentrates 9.3% of all keys with 370 rooms and 33 units.

The hotel groups that dominate in the city include AccorHotels with 578 rooms in three hotels dominates the market: Pullman Dakar Teranga (231 rooms), Novotel Dakar (241 at the end of 2016) and ibis Dakar (106). It is followed by Carlson Rezidor and Radisson Blu, which opened in 2009 and was expanded in 2014-2015 to a capacity of 241 rooms. The groups Onomo and Warwick have 108 and 103 rooms in their respective hotels. Finally, the Yaas Hotel Almadies of the Mangalis Group, which recently opened its doors in the capital, has a capacity of 89 keys.

Moreover, many hotel projects are underway and should increase the competition between hotel chains. Marriott International should open on the market in 2018, starting with the Sheraton (247 rooms) and Aloft hotels (150 rooms). The latter will replace the Hôtel des Almadies, the city’s largest 4-star property that currently has 256 rooms. The creation of a Hyatt hotel (Hyatt Hotels Corporation) and a property by the group Azalai Hotels is also planned for 2018. These new properties will grow Dakar’s hotel supply by 448 rooms in 2018 if they open on schedule.

In addition to chain hotels, Dakar also has three other independent high capacity hotels: the Ngor Diarama complex (211 rooms), King Fahd Palace (374 rooms) and the Terrou-Bi which currently has 168 rooms. The latter two plus the Pullman Teranga (recently renovated) and the Radisson Blu constitute the four 5-star properties in the city. This segment presents itself as the most dynamic, with 337 rooms created since the arrival in 2009 of the Terrou-Bi and Radisson Blu hotels that changed the market. Despite increased competition, the occupancy rate and average daily rate increased between 2012 and 2015, as did the RevPAR (Revenue per available room). The occupancy rate was high until 2015, but fell off in 2016, preventing growth in the average daily rate and thus the RevPAR of these hotels.  This trend is confirmed on the first three months of 2017.

The city’s economic dynamism and the development of upscale accommodations, particularly adapted to business clientele, encourages globally positive performances for Dakar’s hotel supply. Senegal’s government must nonetheless continue its efforts in terms of tourism policy in order to better exploit the destination’s potential.



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