Magazine article African Business

The Roots of African Culture: Senegal, in West Africa, Is Rapidly Developing into One of Africa's Major Tourism Destinations. It Is Tapping into Its Rich Artistic Heritage to Cash in on the Growing International Trend towards Cultural Tourism

Magazine article African Business

The Roots of African Culture: Senegal, in West Africa, Is Rapidly Developing into One of Africa's Major Tourism Destinations. It Is Tapping into Its Rich Artistic Heritage to Cash in on the Growing International Trend towards Cultural Tourism

Article excerpt

Africa's arboreal giant, the baobab tree, is the symbol favoured by the West African nation of Senegal. Like the baobab, Senegal's cultural roots go deep into Africa's historical soil and its many branches support a wide diversity of peoples and landscapes.

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Senegal has always been a favoured holiday destination for the more adventurous French--but it is now rapidly climbing the charts as one of Africa's major tourist destinations.

It has a great deal to offer: splendid beaches, fascinating nature parks, landscapes ranging from tropical forest, through savannah grasslands to semi-arid desert scapes. Its cities are both modern and, simultaneously, steeped in tradition. The arts flourish in Senegal with some of the best examples in Africa of wood carving, painting on glass, designing patterns for textiles, dances and music. Senegal's first president, Leopold Sedar Senghor was a poet and philosopher of international repute; Youssou N'Dour who packs venues wherever he performs, whether in Dakar, Paris or London is one of the nation's favourite sons.

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The Senegalese national team stunned the world by beating France in the 1998 World Cup. Senegal had produced some of the game's best players--such as Patrick Viera, Al Haj Diouf, Cisse, Bouba Diop and others. A number of Senegal-born players have proudly represented their adopted country, France on the international stage.

Although Senegal was already on the tourist map, particularly for visitors from France and Germany, it was the country's outstanding performance in the World Cup that attracted interest from non-traditional markets. This, added to the lure of Goree Island for African-American visitors, has underpinned much of the increased traffic to Senegal.

Air travel, which, not so long ago was the most painful part of the journey to Senegal, has improved measurably with the entry of Air Senegal International. Flights are now reliable, affordable and generally a very agreeable experience. (See box).

With tourism now forming a sizeable proportion of many African national budgets, Senegal is polishing up its numerous tourism assets and going for a bigger market share. The country is keen to promote its attractions to a much bigger audience than every before.

Ousmane N'Diaye, Senegal's minister of tourism is also the mayor of Saint Louis, a charming city which at one time was the nation's capital. He has been working hard to attract visitors to this historic city.

He has assembled a team of professionals dedicated to making the city a "must stop" for every holiday maker that comes to Senegal.

Bernard Klein, currently seconded to the French embassy, is an expert on African tourism in general and Saint Louis in particular. He is the force behind the renaissance of the Saint Louis region.

There is a concerted effort to promote the regions traditions, its arts and cultures, the diversity of the people and their religions and its famous feasts and festivals.

Jean Jacques Bancal, the vice-president of the Saint Louis Tourist Office and the owner of Sahel Decouverte, a travel agency, works tirelessly with the major hotels to promote the region. The famous Hotel de la Poste, built in 1850 is the oldest hotel in Saint Louis. It has been run by the same family for three generations. The architecture, now picturesque, reflects the era in which it was first built and the hotel itself reeks of history and memorabilia. Meylis and Yannick Philip the third generation custodians, are a charming pair who spare no effort to put Saint Louis on the map as a world heritage destination.

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La Maison Rose is another exceptional hotel in the heart of the old city. It has been completely rebuilt around its many courtyards and tastefully decorated with authentic furniture, artefacts and paintings assembled painstakingly and personally by its owner, the charismatic Fabienne Diouf Guillabert. …

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