Beyond Historical Sites: On the need for Large-scale Integrated Resort Developments in West Africa

When tourists visit West African countries, some of the primary attractions they visit are the historical sites that continually remind us of our past, especially the gruesome days of the Atlantic slave trade and colonialism. This isn’t bad and the sites play very important roles, especially economically. However, after a single visit to a West African country, with the itinerary-based excursions to these sites, there is almost no reason to visit again.

Thus most people continue to be one-time visitors due to the monotony of possible tourist activities. In light of this, there is the need to complement our historical sites with more modern tourist attractions that would help ensure repeat tourism inflows. A possible option is the integrated resort concept, already applied with huge financial success in other parts of the world.

What is an Integrated Resort?

Simply put, an integrated resort is more than just a regular hotel or resort. It combines numerous events under one roof or within a few walking distance in a set of related buildings. The rationale behind the integrated resort concept is to make the resort itself (and the activities therein) enough reason for people to visit the area or country. Examples of popular integrated resorts in Asia include the Marina Bay Sands resort in Singapore and the Venetian resort in Macau among others. In the Caribbean, the Atlantis Bahamas sits as one of the world’s foremost integrated resort and self-contained tourist destination. Others include Disney World and a number of casino-anchored resorts in Las Vegas. Numerous activities could be hosted in the buildings, depending on what is demanded and what the laws permit.

Most integrated resorts in Asia combine high-end accommodation with a variety of activities including casinos, high-end restaurants, high-end shopping, conventional centers, bars/nightclubs, movie theaters, indoor sports facilities, theme parks, arts galleries, infinity pools, high-end spas, and science/arts museums among others. In addition to these, the Atlantis Bahamas creates extra attractions for kids accompanying their parents. These attractions include elaborate waterparks, dolphin cays, private beaches and video games arcades. Other activities offered by these resorts include championship golf courses, tennis courts and powerboat riding. Thus the plethora of activities help attract numerous groups of people from gaming enthusiasts through young couples celebrating their honeymoon on the beach to families taking a two to three-week vacation. This creates multiple revenue sources for the developer (and the host government) and a variety of activities for local and international visitors.


Why West Africa?

Foremost, the West African region continues to lag behind other regions in the range of tourism offerings available. Most visits to countries like Ghana, Senegal and Benin are directly related to visiting historical slave castles and palaces, while visits to countries like Togo, Gambia and Cape Verde are primarily related to the beaches. This isn’t necessarily bad. But there is the need to increase diversity. Some countries have tried experimenting with safaris, but have had mixed successes and the offerings are below-quality, compared to other countries like Tanzania and South Africa who are leaders in that niche. Thus the integrated resort concept presents an opportunity to develop exceptionally iconic buildings which offer a range of high-quality activities and would help create alternate (and relatively larger) revenue sources for the developer and the government.

On the positive side, the West African region currently plays host to about 362 million people (30% of Africa’s population) and about $675 billion in GDP (20% of Africa’s nominal GDP). In addition, countries located midway in the region such as Ivory Coast and Ghana are within 2 hours flight from most neighboring West African countries. Finally, the West African region, in a bid to promote trade and integration among member countries, allows free movement of citizens of West African countries, without the need to obtain visas. Thus the strong economic might of the region (especially Nigeria) and the ease of movement between countries make it possible to turn any large-scale resort development into a regional tourism attraction with millions of potential clients, including middle and upper class families looking for high-quality vacations spots and a plethora of activities.

Externally, conditions also look favorable. On the African continent, there is no deliberately planned integrated resort of the type described above. The closest to this description is Sun City, located in South Africa. Thus there exists a wider market beyond the West African region. Considering the fact that most countries in the East African and North African regions are about 4-5 hours away by flight, and countries in the Southern African region are 6-7 hours away, a relatively larger market also exists to attract potential clients from these other regions. Furthermore, the continent has witnessed the influx of foreign workers, especially from Asian countries. Since these integrated resorts have been very successful in Asian countries, any major resort could capitalize on the increasing number of foreign workers with a view to further broadening its client base. Finally, European countries are just 6-7 hours away from a number of West African countries. Thus in addition to visiting historical sites, these tourists might be willing to visit well-developed resort complexes which incorporate historical and cultural themes while retaining their high-end quality.


A visit to any of the aforementioned integrated resorts in Asia and the Caribbean incorporates a lot of indigenous cultural themes into their offerings, while creating multiple activity choices for visitors. West Africa has numerous cultural themes that could be incorporated into well-designed integrated resorts. These include ancient empires like the Songhai and Ghana empires as well as unique cultural events and culinary options from different countries in the region. By combining these historical heritages with iconic buildings, numerous activities, and the highest level of customer service, the developers and government would increase their revenues and tourists would have more options while vacationing. And the resort need not be one. Different activities could be combined with the unique cultures of any country with a view to further increasing the range of activity options for local and international tourists.



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