“Authenticity. Originality. Creativity. Something novel.” This is how José Pliya, Director General of the National Agency for the Promotion of Heritage and Tourism Development (ANPT), defined innovation during the Innovation Made in Africa Forum (FORIMA) in June 2018, which hosted the final stage of the Challenge Fund, an initiative for entrepreneurs in Benin who are pursing inclusive and sustainable tourism.
The World Bank Group together with the ANPT and the incubator Sèmè City, launched the Challenge Fund to support Benin’s aspiring entrepreneurs as they conceptualize and prototype their innovative ideas to improve Benin’s tourism products and destinations. The winners of the competition receive matching grants of up to US$500,000, for a total of US$3 million in prize money, as well as a place in Sèmè City’s incubation program.
Through the incubation program, Sèmè City worked with 30 semi-finalists to encourage them to address the public policy challenges and unlock the potential of Benin’s tourism sector by making it more sustainable and inclusive. Initiatives focused on major tourist sites around the country, including Pendjari wildlife park, Avlekete’s coastal resort and the museums of Abomey, Porto Novo and Allada,
As Claude Borna, Director of Sèmè City, put it: “the concept of ‘Innovation Made in Africa’ implicates us all – none of us comes up with the solution by themselves. We’re encouraging our incubees to prototype their products and services and go directly to the market – get out of your laptop and business plan – test your ideas’ potential and create value now.”
Tourism has massive potential to boost economic opportunity and growth in Benin, especially with its proximity to Nigeria, where a growing middle class is increasingly seeking to travel abroad. This potential is reinforced by Benin’s natural beauty and cultural assets, including safari tours, a compact coastal region, artistic and historic attractions and heritage tourism for the descendants of slavery.