BRAZZAVILLE, Republic of Congo — Travelers landing at Maya-Maya airport in the Republic of Congo are greeted by the sort of sights one might find in a European city, with plexiglass walkways connecting the boarding wings and the main hall. A large sign pointing towards Brazzaville welcomes you at the exit. Outside, the city buzzes with the sounds of traffic and pedestrian conversation, day and night. Just a drive away sits the second largest rainforest in the world.
Rich in natural and cultural landmarks like these, Congo-Brazzaville is pinning hopes to diversify its oil-dependent economy on tourism. Commodities currently make up about 60 percent of the country’s economic output, so the government is courting foreign investments, pitching its appeal to international visitors and starting the hard work of building the tourism sector domestically.
The government’s strategic plan estimates it will need $31 million to overhaul the sector over the next five years and raise tourism’s contribution to the gross domestic product from its current 3 to 10 percent by 2021, according to the country’s tourism minister. The fund hopes to attract domestic and international investment to improve rural infrastructure, host multisectoral training programs and build renewable energy at tourist sites.
If successful, Congo-Brazzaville could become a model of how tourism can help foster sustainable development. Tourism advocates have long argued that, done right, the sector can create jobs and spur economic growth, while simultaneously promoting conservation and local cultures.
However, the challenges remain plenty. Tourism is an aggregation of services that need to operate seamlessly to create a memorable experience for visitors. Currently, limited air connectivity, few tourism operators, untrained human resources and a strict visa regime limit progress. The government hopes that a blend of renewed political will, private investment and community engagement will prevail. ….