At the recent UNWTO General Assembly in Kazakhstan, eTN’s publisher Juergen Thomas Steinmetz had the opportunity to speak with Mamata Bako Djaouga, Minister of Handicrafts and Tourism for Benin in Africa.
Benin is located in west Africa with Togo to the west, Nigeria to the east, Burkina Faso and Niger to the north, and a short coastline of the Bight of Benin (Atlantic Ocean) often known as the “Slave Coast” to the south. It is just over 110,000 km2 with a population of almost 8,500,000.
eTN: I have been to a lot of places in Africa. I have never been to Benin. Why would someone visit Benin?
Mamata Bako Djaouga: Why people are very interested to visit Benin is because of the variety that exists there, and they have also a lot of itineraries from [the] mountains to the Atlantic Ocean. We have a very typical village built on the water, which looks a bit like Venice in Italy, and it is really a very interesting attraction that people are very curious to see.
eTN: So it’s a hotel or is it a village?
Bako Djaouga: It’s not a hotel but a village where people live, and they developed the activities there. There are schools, there is everything, but the specificity is that they are living in the water.
eTN: A picture of Benin has a coastal area and also has inland area. So someone travels to Benin, is it a combination of cultural travel and beach vacation?
Bako Djaouga: We have at the same time beach tourism to develop and also cultural tourism, meaning that visiting the whole country. We are also very well, let’s say, in terms of history, because we have the beach product on developing the beach tourism.
eTN: How’s the infrastructure when it comes to hotels and accommodation in Benin?
Bako Djaouga: We have around 700 hotels, and all of them are really actually high level in standards, and what is very specific also in our country is that it is really the heart of the African transportation, because from there [you can] depart to so many places to North America and also to the Caribbean. In fact, it is really interesting for the African-American to go to Benin to find their roots.
eTN: How do you fly to Benin?
Bako Djaouga: Through Air France.
eTN: Has Benin been affected by the global economic downfall, or is it like some places in Africa where the numbers are up, and what is the “Road of Recovery” Geoffrey Lipman (UNWTO) introduced doing for Benin?
Bako Djaouga: Basically, Benin is a cheap destination compared to some other destinations. But right now, of course, the bottleneck is the air transportation. So if somebody has to decide first with the traveling and sometimes with the cost of living, it can be a handicap, but what is very important is that international tourism, they have tried to develop more. If they are tour operators it is possible for them to negotiate with Air France.
eTN: Most of our readers are usually tour operators, travel agents, people in the business. If they want to get more information on how to find an inbound operator or how to find information about Benin, who should they turn to?
Bako Djaouga: They can go to our website, http://benintourisme.com.
eTN: Is it also in English or is it only in French?
Bako Djaouga: It is both in English and French.