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How Benin is developing sustainable tourism
José Pliya is the Director of the National Agency for the Promotion of Heritage and the Development of Tourism (NAPT).
Why did the Government decide to make tourism one of the key projects of the Revealing Benin Action Programme?
Benin is an unexpected treasure trove in terms of tourism and heritage. However, less than 5% of the tourism sector’s potential is currently being exploited, despite Benin’s impressive contribution to world history.
Over the next four years, six flagship projects for tourism will be implemented, and we hope that these projects will be the window for people to discover Benin: from Pendjari, the last natural reserve of West Africa in the North, to the 140 km of Atlantic coast in the South.
By investing $1 billion in the tourism sector, a large proportion of which will come from public-private partnerships, we aim not only to Reveal Benin to the world, but also to make tourism a driver of economic development serving the population of Benin, all the while offering real opportunities for international actors.
You talk of untapped potential. What does Benin have to offer that the world is yet to discover!?
Benin has a rich and unexpected cultural heritage. First and foremost, it is the birthplace of Voodoo, which has spread as far as Haiti, Louisiana, Cuba and Brazil. Rather than just a religion, it’s a culture in itself and features prominently in our plan for Ouidah.
Next, just 40 km from the dynamic capital city of Cotonou, is the famous Lake City of Ganvié – the biggest in Africa, and home to nearly 30,000 people. Settled on an incredible freshwater lake, it is known as the Venice of Africa. As I am speaking, the Government is working closely with local communities to restore and redevelop this cultural treasure.
Finally, several major projects are already underway to preserve and protect the breath-taking Pendjari National Park, West Africa’s last great natural reserve. We already have the big four there – buffalo, leopards, lions, and elephants – and we are looking at the possibility of implanting rhinos too.
These projects are crucial for the development of tourism in the long-term. Our objective is now to find the right partners to bring this vision to life and to help us welcome, by 2021, 700,000 visitors from across the globe.
This year alone we have already received the support of the World Bank and the International Monetary Foundation and secured partnerships with renowned actors in the tourism sector: African Parks Network and the Smithsonian Institution.
Sustainable tourism is seen as a tool for development. In what way are Revealing Benin’s tourism flagship projects a sustainable programme?
Sustainability is at the heart of every project of the Revealing Benin programme. This is not about a short-term push, but a long-term vision for this country that will benefit every citizen.
Our approach is based along three streams:
- In terms of the economy, the project will yield inclusive growth, with the creation of thousands of jobs and the participation of the Beninese in the development of the industry, most notably through the medium of training programs,
- From a cultural perspective, the preservation and promotion of diversity and Benin’s unique identity,
- Finally, it will bring environmental progress, preserving and enriching Benin’s natural habitat.
Once again, the project’s ambition is to make tourism a motor for the sustainable economic development of the country.