Question on Cape Verde tourism

We recently had a request from a University student in Greece. They were asking for some answers to questions on tourism in Cape Verde. We thought some people might be interested in the answers we gave:

1. Tell us a few words about yourself and your activity in tourism industry.

We are an information website providing useful information for people looking to visit Cape Verde, or who are already visiting the country. We also provide links to various partners within the country offering either holidays, accommodation or activities for tourists. The site is reviewed on a regular basis and updated regularly. This was particularly important during the covid pandemic when travel arrangements and entry requirements were constantly changing. We issue regular news posts, on average once a week. We have visited all but one of the nine inhabited islands and so we have a sound knowledge of the country.

2. Is tourism the country’s main source of income? What is the main pillar of the economy? Are young people engaged?

Yes, tourism is a vital source of income for Cape Verde. Tourism accounts for approximately 25% of country’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product). This took a big hit during the Covid Pandemic and is gradually recovering. Cape Verde has no natural resources. The war in Ukraine is resulting in inflation, which makes life more difficult than normal for the Cape Verdean people. Many of those involved in tourism are younger people, offering services within the tourism sector, such as taxi drivers, baristas, tour guides, etc. Much of the tourism comprises people booking package holidays and staying in the all-inclusive resorts. Unfortunately, many of these guests don’t leave the hotel unless it is for an hotel-arranged tour. The country really needs people to spend money in local shops, restaurants and bars, so that local people benefit more directly. Also, although Cape Verde is a country of 10 islands (9 inhabited) the vast majority of tourists only visit two of the islands – Sal and Boa Vista. There is much much more to this country.

3. In your opinion, has tourism helped the country to develop?

Diffusion of opportunity economy and wealth. Undoubtedly tourism has brought money into Cape Verde and improved the economy and consequently the standard of living for many. It is a Developing Country and the standard of living of many is still well below that in Europe or the USA. During the pandemic, when tourism virtually stopped, there were reports of increased crime and suicides, although we have no figures to support this. The income from tourism, along with money from the European Union, also goes towards improving the infrastructure. Such as new roads and pedestrianisation.

4. How has it fluctuated over the last 10 years? Do you think that tourism in Cape Verde has increased?

The general trend is that tourism has increased over the last 10 years. As mentioned, this trend was severely interrupted by Covid, but is now increasing again.

5. What in your opinion has helped increase tourism?

There has been much more coverage on Cape Verde as a tourist destination in newspapers and on television. Several of the UK newspapers have featured the islands and only in the past month there was an hour long UK TV programme featuring the island of Sal. The beautiful beaches and almost uninterrupted good weather are great attractions. It is also only about 6 hours by plane from much of Europe, and therefore much easier to get to than places such as the Caribbean, Maldives or the Seychelles.

6. Are the investments in the tourist industry from locals or foreigners?

This varies. The big all-inclusive resorts and some of the larger hotels are owned by companies outside of Cape Verde. Quite a lot of land and property is owned by Italians.

The local tourism – taxis, island tours, cafes, restaurants and bars are more likely to provided by, or staffed by local people.

7. What kind of vacation can a tourist have in Cape Verde?

What are the types of tourism provided there? (sun sea) winter Ilias, alternative forms of tourism. The main marketing feature is beach holidays and good weather. There are kilometres of sandy beaches and the reliability of the weather is a big attraction. Water sports are also an attraction with world competitions being held there for sports such as kite surfing. The windier winter months attracting a lot of surfers, windsurfers, kite surfers etc. Diving is also popular and the seas around the islands are teeming with marine life.

However, this is only to concentrate on one aspect of tourism. Some of the islands are mountainous and attract people for hiking, canyoning and mountain biking. It is a great shame that some people only ever visit one of the islands and never see the culture and variety that the country offers.

8. Do you think that Cabo Verde can be developed even more for tourism? If so what could be most exploited in order to achieve this?

Improvement to inter-island transport would help considerably. The variety of the islands is not fully exploited. The big resorts used or owned by TUI, for example, are pretty much restricted to two islands. Whilst too much tourism will ruin some of the smaller, quieter islands such as Maio, there is scope for emphasis on some other islands, where the offer is different. If you want a quiet holiday away from the masses then islands such as Maio, Brava, Fogo, São Nicolau and Santo Antão should be explored. There are plans to build a big resort on the island of Maio. Maio is lovely, but a quiet and peaceful island. It is important that this tranquility is not spoilt by building massive all-inclusive resorts. So, in summary, the importance, as we see it, is to encourage sustainable tourism and not the greedy tourism offered by some of the large international companies.

9. What do you consider to be the strong point of the place?

The lovely beaches, good weather, the variety of landscape from the relatively flat eastern islands to the mountainous western ones. Also the friendly locals and quality accommodation and food.

Cape Verde also is a stable democracy, with a good human rights record and with relatively low levels of crime. It also has a good record on equality.

10. What 3 points do you consider for improvement as a tourist destination?

1. Improved inter-island transportation (ferries and planes) – imperative
2. Encouraging more airlines to fly to Praia (the capital) and the island of São Vicente
3. Encouraging fewer all-inclusive resorts so that people are encouraged to support local businesses, sample local food, buy in local shops and experience local life.
11. What are the possible threats according to you?

We think there are two main threats – climate change (see below) and another pandemic or war.

People are becoming more conscious of the need to reduce their flying hours to help the planet. So more people may reduce the frequency of their foreign holidays.

The covid pandemic was a disaster for Cape Verde and the war in Ukraine is making people poorer. Another aspect is that some young people in the hospitality industry are leaving Cape Verde for work in Europe (mainly Portugal). This could reduce the number of people providing tourism services in Cape Verde.

12. Does the destination satisfy a traveler? To what extend?

From our experience, and from comments we see on social media, the vast majority of first time visitors say that they can’t wait to go back again. There are always exceptions, no one place suits everyone.

13. Do you think climate change threatens the destination?

Yes. Climate change threatens every country without exception. Much of Cape Verde is low-lying, especially the eastern islands. A rise in sea level could have a serious effect for those communities and resorts that are on the beaches. The country grows some of its own food (mostly on the more mountainous islands), but there is very little rain in Cape Verde. In fact, the country is almost always in drought. Some years some of the islands have so little rain that it is hardly recorded. The reason food crops can be grown on the more mountainous islands, such as Santo Antão, is because the mountains create a micr0-climate with clouds, which provides some moisture. If climate change continues to bring about less rain, it could be very serious for this small country. Most of the water for use by the population comes from sea water using desalination plant.

Cape Verde has ambitious renewable energy targets. This will help them to reduce the impact of climate change.

14. What are the growth opportunities in the next 10 years?

There is a general plan to improve the ports and so maybe Cape Verde will have the facilities to welcome more cruise liners in future. Some do call already, but it is not currently a major cruise stop.

The main improvement that is desperately needed is an improvement to inter-island transportation. All but two of the islands can be reached by internal flights, but the service is not totally reliable and some routes only operate twice a week. When there is what’s called the Bruma Seca (sand storms, usually from the Sahara) internal flights, and sometimes international flights have to be cancelled, or at least delayed. This can cause problems if guests rely on an internal flight to get to their international flight. There are also inter-island ferries, but again there is unreliability and some routes are only once a week.

All of this makes it difficult for local people, tourists and businesses. There are four international airports, but there are relatively few flights into the capital city of Praia, and even fewer to the island of São Vicente. Flights to these islands from more cities would make quite difference and attract tourists to other parts of the country. We appreciate that not everyone will agree with our responses. However, they are based on our experience and on the feedback we have had from other people. We hope that they may be useful for others asking questions on tourism in this lovely country.

[19 June 2023]