Monday, November 27, 2006

Congo Tourism?

The way things are, tourism to the Republic of Congo (a.k.a. Congo Brazzaville, French Congo) won't take off very soon. I just spent a night at a beach resort, the Malonda Lodge, which is just down the coast from Pointe Noire. The resort is the brainchild of a retired French couple. Owner Gerard explained that after a career in the oil industry he and his wife decided to settle down in Africa and it is easy to see why.

Right now the lodge caters to people who live and work in the Pointe Noire area and most are connected in some way with the oil industry. So I imagine that the weekends tend to be busy while the weekdays are quiet.

So why won't tourism take off here? The first reason is the costs involved. Airline tickets are at a premium due to the relatively small Airbus plane that flies three times a week from Paris and the fact that this is primarily a semi-charter flight for people who work in the oil industry. On top of the expensive airline ticket, a visa must be obtained and this requires a sponsorship letter. Visas for African countries are never cheap. Then there is the need to have innoculation against Yellow Fever (the area is serious about this and all visitors must produce evidence of vaccination). The arrival in Pointe Noire is interesting, to say the least, as the present day facilities include one open wooden shed that houses immigration, customs and baggage claim.

On top of these considerations there is the concept that the area is unsafe for tourists. Yes, there are ongoing problems in neighboring D R Congo (a.k.a. Congo Kinshasa) but many of the incidents reported in the media are a thousand kilometers and more from idyllic places like the Malonda Lodge.

I am not sure the Congolese Government will open its doors to tourism very soon. But maybe this is a good thing. Too many places have been opened up to tourism where the result has been a flood of tourism that does little for the country but a lot for the tour operators (Tunisia offers a good example). Some places are better off for not being too accessible even if the costs involved are always going to be higher.

The investment in Malonda Lodge needs to be supported and there is certainly plenty of local enthusiasm for their resort and the fine food in their restaurant. So, if you are reading this and think that an exotic holiday away from Cancun, Malaga or Rapallo would be a refreshing change, do give the Malonda Lodge some consideration!