Sao Tome and Principe has all the attributes to be a niche destination for wealthier tourists and could never be a mass tourist destination due to its diminutive size, the Lusophone Brief (CLBrief) has reported.
Natural attractions include lush forests, spectacular waterfalls, a dream coastline and long sandy beaches, which include Banana beach on Principe Island and the Tamarindos beach on the island of São Tomé, as well as a 663 metre-high magma column, which is proof of the volcanic origins of the archipelago.
The country’s various governments, including the present one which took office on 3 December, have sought to develop the tourism sector, both for the income it provides and the jobs it creates, but most importantly because of the economic diversification it represents, in a country that is almost totally dependent on cocoa and to a lesser extent, on coffee.
Sao Tome and Principe currently receives only 13,000 tourists a year, which is not enough to provide the economic growth of 6.0% mentioned by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as the minimum rate to reduce the country’s poverty levels.
The latest IMF forecasts point to economic growth of 4.0% in 2018 and 5.0% in following years, which, however, is dependent on the introduction of reforms by the government, including increased tax revenue and reform of the banking sector in order to reduce the high level of bad debt.
In order to receive more tourists Sao Tome and Principe needs more and better infrastructure, with the World Bank saying it was very important to expand or replace the existing airport passenger terminal and to extend the airport runway, and adding that it is necessary to invest at least US$35 million in the modernisation of the port of Santo António.
There are also problems in the supply of drinking water and electricity, and the state-owned company that manages these two areas, Empresa de Água e Electricidade, has has run at recurring deficits, such as in 2016, when power supply provided revenue of US$11.6 million, with expenditure amounting to US$24.9 million.
The government has been waiting for Beijing to provide funding for infrastructure projects, such as the international airport and the port, after resuming diplomatic relations with China in December 2016.
Last January, Foreign Minister Wang Yi, visiting the archipelago, said the Chinese government was willing to invest in the construction of a deep-water port and other infrastructure projects, but made such funding dependent on completion of economic feasibility studies.