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In Guinea, the hotel industry gets back to business

Significantly weakened by political and sanitary crises in recent years, Guinea’s economy is currently experiencing renewed growth. While new reforms are underway, the accommodations supply is being renewed in order to accommodate business travelers, the leading clientele in the country today. The opening of upscale properties and the advent of international hotel groups testify to renewed interest in the market. However, while it is not very highly developed, leisure tourism has not been ignored by authorities who would like to make Guinea one of West Africa’s leading destinations.

Often referred to as the “water tower” of West Africa because of all its rivers (Niger, Senegal, Gambia…), the Republic of Guinea is located on the Atlantic Coast of the African continent. Its territory is bordered to the north by Guinea-Bissau (a former Portuguese colony) and Mali, and to the south by the Ivory Coast, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Subdivided into four large natural regions, it is characterized by a wide variety of reliefs and landscapes, from oceanic in Lower Guinea to mountainous in the ranges of Fouta Djallon (Central Guinea), forested in Guinea Forest Region and the savanna in Upper Guinea. Moreover, it is brimming with natural resources, with a subsoil that is rich with bauxite (close to one-third of the global reserves), gold, iron ore and diamonds. Although it is underexploited, today the mining industry accounts for 80% of the country’s foreign trade and is its primary source of revenues.

Guinea’s territory has some 13 million inhabitants (according to World Bank), of which nearly 4 million live in its capital Conakry. The main city in the country, Conakry plays a central role in Guinea’s economy, thanks to its autonomous port, and also thanks to development in banking (Société Générale and Ecoban) and telecommunications (MTN, Orange, Intercel, Sotelgui, and Cellcom).

Despite the riches of its sites, tourism in Guinea has never quite got off is feet in particular because of the country’s political instability between 2009 and 2013, followed by the Ebola epidemic in 2014. This situation resulted in a loss of appeal and a major slump in growth (down to 1.1% in 2014 and just 0.1 % in 2015).  Up between 2010 and 2011, the number of international arrivals fell on the period 2011 – 2014, from 131,000 to 33,000, for a drop by close to 75% (World Bank & Financial In office since January 2016, the current Minister of Hotels and Tourism, Thierno Ousmane Diallo, deplores the insalubrity and poor conditions of infrastructures, and especially roadways that are mostly impracticable, but also the lack of qualification Guineans have in this sector. The situation has improved with the end of the sanitary crisis in December 2015 and renewed economic growth; Conakry airport posts an increase in activity as airlines are once again operating on a regular flight schedule to Conakry. The ministry of tourism recorded 60,000 international visitors in 2016, and expects to double this figure in 2017. 

As part of the National Economic and Social Development Plan for 2016-2020, several reforms have been implemented to relaunch tourism in Guinea. The management of human resources and training in particular are major concerns for the government, which would like to improve the quality of reception. Another priority is the renovation of major roadways and restauration of historic sites – such as Guinea Forest Region, which has been completely abandoned. A veritable “synthesis of West Africa” due to its geography, Guinea undeniably has tourism potential, particularly in terms of ecotourism, based on the discovery of natural settings through trekking, adventure tours, rafting…. It has many protected sites such as the National Park of Niokolo-Koba, the National Park of Upper Niger, Sangaréya Bay and the Mount Nimba Strict Nature Reserve. The diversity of ethnicities and the presence of sites connected to the slave trade (Dominya, Farinya) also constitutes assets for cultural tourism. Finally, beach resort tourism is another direction under consideration, and the Minister of Tourism has already announced the creation of new accommodations along the shoreline in Boffa (130 km North of the capital).

While it is currently very limited, leisure tourism constitutes an important axis for the minister, who would like to make Guinea one of the leading destinations in Africa. And yet, the priority, in light of renewed economic activity, now concerns the return of business clientele. The Minister of Tourism announced the desire to increase the capacity of accommodations in Conakry to 2,500 beds by 2018 in order to compete with Dakar, the other French speaking capital on Africa’s West Coast. The minister specifies that this strategy will make it possible to generate demand and favor the destination’s appeal to investors. 

Thus, the development of an adapted accommodations supply, which was nearly inexistent not so long ago, proves to be essential. The national hotel market currently includes 300 properties that are mostly in the capital, versus 163 hotels in 2014 (Source Hospitality ON). Although it is still limited, the supply is currently experiencing new growth, driven by the arrival of new independent properties, but also by that of international groups. The hotel supply in Conakry experienced significant changes over the last five years, starting with the renovation of two historic units in the city center: the Palm Camayenne (123 rooms), the leading upscale property inaugurated in 2013, and the Kaloum hotel (271 keys) that reopened in 2015. New openings, such as those of the Millenium Suite (70 suites) in 2014, the Sheraton Grand Conakry with 129 rooms (the first Marriott International property in West Africa) and the Noom Hotel (a 187-room hotel operated by the Spanish group Mangalis) end 2016 all confirm this need for renewal and testify to a rise in range for Guinea’s hotel supply. Focusing more on business clientele, these properties particularly have infrastructures that are propitious to organizing high capacity conferences and seminars.

Moreover, other projects are underway for development in the city, like the Onomo Hotel Conakry (123 rooms and 32 residences), scheduled to open in 2017, the Azalai Hotel Conakry (280 rooms), currently under construction, and the Radisson Blu Hotel Conakry which should welcome its first guests at the beginning of 2018. 

Thus after a difficult period, hotel activity in Guinea will gradually regain its spirits and should continue to grow in the years to come. The tourism sector currently constitutes an important development axis for the country, which has many largely under-exploited resources. This is true for leisure tourism which targets natural territories and areas of cultural importance, which it will promote, and it is also true for its business segment. In order to renew growth, the latter relies on western standards for the business hospitality segment. In addition to initiatives currently being taken by the government, which hopes to compete with other destinations in Africa such as Senegal and Ghana, Guinea can rely on the growing appeal of West Africa, which is currently the second most sought-after region for hotel chains on the continent. 

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