Thursday, May 19, 2011

How Cape Verde can leverage existing tourism into greater economic benefits

Cape Verde has risen from the world's ranks of "lesser developed countries" into an emerging economic force in Africa. It is now moving toward classification as a "middle-income country". The country receives high marks from the various organizations, such as the Heritage Foundation and the Ibrahim Foundation, which study the social and economic progress of countries across the globe. It is a remarkable feat for a country with few natural resources, bar its natural beauty and its beautiful and talented people.

Yet, it is easy for its government to become complacent with these accomplishments or to cease looking very deeply into the opportunities which remain untapped. This is in fact what appears to be happening in the area of tourism. While tourism into Cape Verde has increased dramatically over the last decade, and is expected to rise at an even higher pace of over 20% in 2011, there is a danger that the government views the current and future expected growth in tourism as a sign of success. No doubt, it is a commendable achievement, however there are significant imbalances in the current state of tourism that cannot be left unaddressed:

  1. Most of the tourist visits to Cape Verde are concentrated in just two of its nine islands - Sal and Boa Vista. Less than 20% of tourists head to the other islands as their primary destination.
  2. The majority of tourists remain sequestered in all-inclusive resorts on Sal and Boa Vista and hardly venture out beyond the confines of their hotels or the activities offered by the hotels to truly experience what Cape Verde has to offer its visitors.
  3. Tourists themselves can hardly be blamed because the tour operators are offering what is available in terms of safe, organized, scheduled activities - the tour operators have a reputation to protect. Left to their own devices, the typical tourist or visitor needs all possible help to explore what any location has to offer. It is the exceptional visitor who would step outside the parameters of pre-arranged, organized services because of the inconvenience or mis-perceptions about the risks to their personal safety.
  4. Creating further obstacles to getting tourists off their beach-lounge chairs or pool-mattresses is the lack of reliable maritime transportation services. A new, modern fast ferry service called Cape Verde Fast Ferry was launched in early 2011 with one ferry (and soon to be two), but it was not strategically designed to service the tourism base. For example, it does not reach the two islands of Sal and Boa Vista where most tourists flock. The result is that, besides limited and more expensive air transport provided by the local airline - TACV, there is no good way for tourists to get "off the island" on which they arrived. And frankly, when you take a vacation via air travel, no one wants to deal with the hassles of getting back onto an aircraft until it's time to return home at the end of the vacation.
  5. The lack of efficient maritime transport services also misses the critical economic opportunity presented by delivering Cape Verdean products from the islands where they originate to the islands where tourists and visitors predominantly stay. For example, there is no efficient way to transport perishable foods grown on the agriculturally rich island of San Nicolau to the tourist mecca of Sal on a reliable, daily basis. So you have hungry tourists in Sal on the one had and you have delicious, fruit and vegetables in San Nicolau on the other hand - but never do the two hands clap. Instead, it is more cost effective for hotel operators to import foreign goods to Sal and Boa Vista to satisfy the tourism demands!
  6. While a number of capable tour companies exists on these other islands, they are naturally focused on providing pre-arranged, committed tour services for potential tourists who are outside of Cape Verde at the time of planning a visit. In other words, there is no coherent strategy being pursued to market the rest of Cape Verde to the captive audience of some 1/2 million tourists per year when they are already inside Cape Verde!
  7. Unless Cape Verde does a much better job of getting tourists who visit one island to experience the diverse offerings that the other islands have to offer, some tourists are likely to make their Cape Verde holiday a one-time only visit because, unlike what the government and current tourism providers may be tempted to believe, there are many beach-vacation destination choices across the globe. I've been to several. After a while, they all seem the same. It is okay to market Cape Verde's uniqueness in a beautiful brochure, but unless that uniqueness can be actually experienced by a visitor, there is nothing to truly distinguish the Cape Verde holiday experience from what could be found in competing sun-and-sand destinations.
The conclusion is that there is a major economic opportunity that is being missed by both private investors and especially, the government of Cape Verde. It is not that the government needs to spend any money in this regard. What the government could do is facilitate private investors in establishing a maritime link between Sal and Boa Vista with the other islands. However, the private business that takes advantage of this would have to supply a tourist-oriented maritime service to create organized one-, two-, or three-day trips to the other islands to which the service connects. But the trick is that once the service reaches the destination island(s), there must be a series of organized, coordinated excursions for the visitors to utilize. The private organizer would have to do an excellent job in working with the foreign travel agents, the local hotels on Sal and Boa Vista, and the local providers of tourism services to effectively, organize and promote these maritime-based tour operations.

Think of it as delivering a "cruise" service. I haven't met a single person who doesn't enjoy leisure cruising. I've been on several Caribbean cruises myself. But in this case, instead of a cruise that leaves your home port and ventures to a foreign destination, it is a cruise within the Cape Verde maritime region. There are many examples across the globe of successful local-only cruise operations where the "tourists" never actually leave the home country region. Application in the Cape Verdean tourism context could be remarkably successful because, frankly, the most exquisitely beautiful of the Cape Verde islands are those where few tourists have the opportunity to go. It is not the absence of tourism that keeps these islands beautiful. Rather, it is the combination of a diverse topology and the charm of its cultural and human setting that gives each island a unique yet connected flavor that cannot be found elsewhere in the world within such a small region.

Cape Verde is like opening a single bottle of fine wine, yet finding in each sip, a different but compelling sensory perception against your taste buds. This would be a magical experience because you would only expect such a result if you purchased separate bottles of fine wine. It is hard to imagine a more natural marketing opportunity.

As far as the movement of local goods from the islands where those goods are produced out to the tourist resorts where those goods can be consumed, this is where the government should be encouraged to step in with public investment in a freight service that is strategically aimed at building the GDP of the islands which are largely locked out of the pronounced economic benefits associated with linkages to the islands where the massive tourism investments are concentrated.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please give us your feedback. Did you find this information interesting or useful?