The ministry of tourism in Ivory Coast says it disagrees with warnings issued by many Western nations advising against all but essential travel to the country. The ministry says although full reconciliation has yet to occur, Ivory Coast is peaceful. It says revenue generated from tourism could help boost the country's economy, which has suffered from years of conflict. Phillip Wellman reports for VOA from Abidjan
At the Hotel Ivoire in Abidjan, three tourists are playing a game of ten-pin bowling. They are the only customers this evening, which does not surprise the bowling lanes' manager, who says many people are afraid to come to Ivory Coast following the country's brief civil war five years ago.
Chief spokesman for the Ivorian ministry of tourism, Satigui Kone, says a fear of violence, which he describes as unnecessary, is the biggest problem facing the country's travel industry. He says the fear is costing the country crucial revenue and is being prolonged by Western governments that continue to post travel warnings for Ivory Coast.
"Some embassies want their populations not to come here. We don't know why. If you consider Ivory Coast like it was (before the peace accord), it is a very, very big fault. There is no reason for tourists to stay in their countries because of those messages you can find by some embassies. We are very sad to know of them," he said.
Several unexplained killings of prominent foreigners have occurred in Ivory Coast since the civil war which began in 2002.. A strong anti-French sentiment also swept though Abidjan in 2004, with mobs of government supporters looting French businesses throughout the city and attacking French nationals.
In March, a peace accord was signed by Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo and the rebel leader Guillaume Soro. The agreement stipulated that northern rebels would be integrated into the country's army and free and fair elections would be held. Elections are now due to be held next year.
Although tourism is not a major industry in Ivory Coast, the Tourism Ministry thinks it can be. Kone says the March agreement has brought peace to Ivory Coast. He admits that there have been setbacks which have delayed the accord, but says none poses a threat to foreign visitors.
However, in June, the U.S. State Department issued a new travel warning, saying political violence could erupt at any time because most key goals of the peace accord remain unachieved. The warning said the security situation is particularly poor and unpredictable in Abidjan and in the west part of the country.
Canada, Britain and New Zealand updated their travel warnings on Ivory Coast last month.
The manager of Abidjan's Hotel Tiama, Christian Filiol, also says tourists have little to worry about when visiting Ivory Coast, but he says he does not blame them for being scared.
He says like other businesses that rely on tourism, the hotel is struggling to make a profit. He says this is because the Ivorian government is not accelerating the peace accord, which is provoking the travel warnings. "The peace process is going very slowly- too slowly. The question is why. I suppose the slow process is a good arrangement for certain people, but for the economical situation, it is very bad," he said.
The United States embassy in Abidjan was unavailable for comment on the U.S. warning.