Who cares about your stars?
What does it take to own a parcel of land, a building or buy a house in Cameroon? I’ve got no clue: I never had to worry about paying a rent until I left the country. Today, as I hear the cries of agony of my friends when they receive that small, seemingly harmless envelope from the hands of their landlords, I understand how privileged I have been. Although I am not familiar with the house renting process, I have a clear idea of the amount of sweat, money and headaches trying to spend a night in a decent hotel in Cameroon might generate. If you are not a billionaire, that is.
This is not going to be another long, tearful post about Cameroon’s unexploited tourist potential; what I read on twitter on that specific topic is enough to show my folks are finally opening their eyes. Through this article, I would just like to draw the attention of the actors of the accommodation sector in Cameroon. I will go straight to the point: we are going through a crisis, one that you alone can and should think about stopping.
I am frequently sent reports of new “5 stars” establishments opening, fairy tales about multinational hotel chains seeking investment opportunities in Cameroon. Problem is the final product is generally described as (another) “high-end resort lost in the untamed equatorial forest”; hotels designed with rich foreign investors or affluent members of our government in mind. What about the crushing majority of Cameroonians who can’t afford to “exchange” 50.000 CFA francs for one night out of their monotonous homes? By the way, did you also consider those European and American backpackers who planned their Cameroonian tour on a very tight budget?
I think we should stop affiliating tourism and hospitality with inbound markets only. I think we should start marketing Cameroon to Cameroonians properly. And no, we don’t need more posh hotels & lodges: the ones we’ve already got, we can’t afford and the ones we can afford are barely accessible by road.
An uncle once told me, his eyes full of nostalgia, that 20-25 years ago ordinary university students could afford spending a weekend at local hotels (Some of the names he mentioned are still there today, charging ridiculous amounts of money for their strikingly poor services). They were not rich but personal savings and earnings from student jobs were enough to pay the bill. I know a lot of things have changed since and I am not saying our existing hotels are useless but I can’t help but notice a huge majority of the Cameroonian market is not even considered when it comes to leisure infrastructures and accommodation.
The funny part is your grading, big swimming pools and extra-large plasma screens are the last thing most Cameroonians care about when on a Friday night they look for a hotel to spend a night or two. They won’t call your award-winning room service because they came prepared and your food is too expensive anyway. They just wish for a minimum of comfort, in a small but well-designed guest house in or out of town. An intimate but easily accessible venue, where they could spend some quality time without worrying about the fact that there might not be enough food on their table the next day.
Photo Source: http://cameroontourismlink.wordpress.com/