Everywhere you look in Cape Verde, there’s construction: condos, malls, high-rise bank buildings, sprawling corporate centers. Anticipating a boom in tourism, the 10-island nation located just 320 miles off the coast of Senegal is on a building frenzy.
A former Portuguese colony, Cape Verde is considered one of Africa’s most stable and democratic countries. When U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited last summer, she praised it as a beacon of success for the rest of Africa, despite its lack of natural resources. Cape Verde is also the only country in West Africa with a population of primarily mixed European and African descent, with more Cape Verdeans living in the United States than in Cape Verde itself.
Currently, about 130,000 tourists visit the islands annually. That number is expected to increase to about 500,000 per year by 2015. With tourist arrivals growing at a rate of 22 percent a year, Cape Verde officials say they expect to reach the one-million-tourists-a-year benchmark by 2020. Currently, tourism accounts for about 10 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. With the expected increase in arrivals, according to government spokesperson Cristina Fontes Lima, the sector conceivably could contribute up to 30 percent to the GDP and employ 53,000 people.
In gearing up for increased tourism, Cape Verde has invested in improvement projects totaling $300 million since 2006. It also created a “Zones of Integrated Tourism Development” scheme, under which the government sold lands equaling about 1 percent of the national territory for tourism development. Planned developments on the islands of Boa Vista and Sal would take up about 15 percent and 17 percent of the islands’ land, respectively. The developments here will include landscaping and new public infrastructure.
One of the expected draws for foreign visitors will be the upcoming World Cup 2010. Although South Africa will be hosting the mega soccer tournament, Cape Verde is expecting an increase in the number of visitors, especially from South America. Cape Verde is the closest African nation to South America and it will be a fueling point for carriers en route to the World Cup. Looking to lure these flyers into taking a stopover on Sal, the national carrier, TACV Cabo Verde, plans to increase flights to South Africa.
Besides the World Cup, Cape Verde expects a boost in tourism from its heritage award conferred by UNESCO, the United Nations agency that promotes stewardship of the world’s cultural resources.
Whether local Cape Verdeans will increase their share of the tourism pie in the anticipated boom remains to be seen. While locals have their hand in smaller tourism ventures, the larger projects either are foreign owned or include foreign investors. Portuguese, German and British companies control the bulk of the market, owning the larger hotels, restaurants and new development, with most of the smaller hotels and guesthouses belonging to Cape Verdeans. Cape Verdeans are fighting for a bigger share. On the island of Brava, for example, Fajã d’ Água hotel is looking to create a better environment to attract more international guests. To do so, its local owners reached out to former German guest Susanna Wieghardt.
“We’re connecting the hotel with German tourist agencies to encourage them to include the hotel in their program,” says Wieghardt, who first visited the hotel as a guest and returned a year later to assist owner Manuel Burgos with his international outreach plans.
With ocean-view rooms for just 2000 escudos a night (U.S.$25) for two people and an impressive kitchen that offers breakfast and dinner at a nominal cost (250 and 500 escudos, respectively), the five-year-old hotel should have little trouble luring foreigners, Wieghardt says. However, Burgos has yet to create an Internet presence or connect with the international tourism industry in a big way. So far, foreign guests have heard about the hotel via word of mouth.
Hotel Tarrafal on Santiago Island is a locally owned success. Located in the lush area of Tarrafal, the hotel attracts Cape Verdeans for weekend getaways, as well as international visitors. With 20 air-conditioned rooms, free Internet in each bedroom, a swimming pool, bar and a restaurant whose menu features local food, including locally caught fish, the hotel is a major draw.
On the air-travel side, there are two locally owned carriers, including TACV Cabo Verde Airlines, which provide inter-island service and flights to Europe, North America, South America and the West African mainland. They offer frequent flights to Boston. TACV, which stands for Transportes Aéreos de Cabo Verde (Air Transportation of Cape Verde), opened in 1958 and is 100 percent owned by the Cape Verde government. It may soon be privatized, however.
Halcyonair Cabo Verde Airways S.A., the newer carrier in the Cabo Verde market with both national and foreign shareholders, is aggressively trying to lure foreign passengers. However, the carrier, which opened for business on July 21, 2008, has suffered from the global economic downturn. “We are affected by the international economic crisis, which has also affected the tourism in Cabo Verde,” says Hadja Monteiro, Halcyonair’s spokesman for customer service.
Even so, “sales have surpassed the initial projections,” Monteiro says, adding that the airline is marketing itself through local and international travel agencies and touroperators. “Our Web site has also attracted foreigners,” he says.
Cape Verde officials are also pinning their hopes on a proposed fast ferry service to help boost tourism. The service, which involves local and foreign investors, including U.S.-based Cape Verdean businessowners, will make island hoping faster and easier. Currently, those who wish to visit the different islands in the archipelago either have to fly, which can be expensive, or take slow and uncomfortable cargo ships. After numerous delays, the high-speed passenger ferry is now expected to launch this June.