THE last two years have been tough for tourism in Burkina Faso. An army mutiny in 2011 prompted foreign embassies to turn their travel warnings to red. Then in January this year, 37,000 refugees from neighbouring Mali flooded across the border to escape their country’s political crisis. The collapse in Mali’s tourist industry has been even more damaging. The country has long been a highlight of travel in West Africa. Tour operators got people to Burkina Faso by tagging it on to a trip to Mali. With Mali now off-limits, the bottom has fallen out of regional tourism.Rerouting circuits to other nearby countries is the obvious solution but this is difficult. Neither Niger nor Côte d’Ivoire is particularly secure. Togo is small and undeveloped. Benin’s tourism infrastructure is improving, but it lacks the mythical appeal of Timbuktu and the Dogon Country.
That leaves Ghana. On paper it is the ideal travel companion to Burkina. Its beaches complement Burkina’s landlocked terrain. The slave forts provide insight into an important page of modern history. The bustling metropolis of Accra, Ghana’s capital, offers a glimpse into what the future of Africa looks like, less evident in Ouagadougou, Burkina’s sleepy capital.
But Ghana is Anglophone, and French-speaking Burkina—like its former colonial power—has not taken to English. Local guides rarely speak English well enough to shepherd visitors around. They also need an international driving licence to drive in Ghana—unnecessary in its Francophone neighbours—and vehicles require a special registration permit. Both of these must be renewed every year.
Those in the business say that Burkina’s tourism authorities should do more to promote the country as a safe destination and foster links with Ghana. For many 2012 has been their worst year. One hotelier decided to go back to his native France to work through the summer season to make ends meet. But with a military intervention proposed in Mali next year, things will only get tougher for Burkina Faso.
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