The West African nation of Senegal has moved its North American tourism promotion office to Atlanta after 30 years in New York.
The office traded the Empire State Building for a Buckhead address, the Pinnacle Building at 3455 Peachtree Rd., said El Hadji Aziz Gueye, the office’s director.
Mr. Gueye and his sole associate arrived in late September after signing a lease on the small office in August. Senegal’s tourism minister had announced plans to move the office in December 2008, but it took some time to work out the details, said Mr. Gueye. GlobalAtlanta first reported in March 2008 that Senegal was considering an Atlanta move.
While working on the move, one of the main incentives for coming to Atlanta evaporated when Delta Air Lines Inc. suspended a nonstop flight from Atlanta to Dakar, the capital of the former French colony. Delta maintains a flight three times per week to Dakar from New York but currently has no service there from Atlanta.
“They left us stranded here,” Mr. Gueye joked, adding that at least Atlanta’s weather is better than New York’s.
Atlanta’s other attractive attributes remain. The city has the second largest Senegalese community in the U.S. behind New York, and there’s a large African-American community here that Senegal wants to target for tourism, Mr. Gueye said.
One of Senegal’s main cultural and historic sites is Goree Island, where slaves were held chained in a dungeon before being shipped across the Atlantic Ocean. As the westernmost country in Africa, Senegal was often used as an outpost in the slave trade.
A heart-wrenching museum on the island shows how “Africa was injured” during 300 years of slavery, Mr. Gueye said.
“Some cannot help shedding tears while the curator explains how things used to go on,” how people were weighed, evaluated and sold as property, he said, shedding a few tears himself while describing the island.
Senegal does have some more upbeat attractions, Mr. Gueye said. Outdoors aficionados would enjoy six national game parks and the world’s third largest bird sanctuary. Dakar was the capital of all of France’s colonies in West Africa and maintains its old-world charm. Saint-Louis, another former French city north of Dakar, looks “just like New Orleans,” Mr. Gueye said.
Senegal has 3,000 hours of sunshine per year and 5,000 miles of coastline, a great combination for beach-goers, Mr. Gueye said.
The country is accessible by the seven-and-a-half-hour Delta flight from New York, which helped U.S. tourist traffic to Senegal increase by 9.7 percent last year even as the number of visitors from other countries sharply declined with the global recession, Mr. Gueye said.
Nonstop flights are extremely important in marketing a country to a source market, especially the U.S., where vacationers are crunched for time, he added.
“A tourist is always in a hurry. The less time he or she spends in an airplane, the best for everybody,” Mr. Gueye said.
The Dakar flight from New York will leave four times per week beginning in June, said Kent Landers, a Delta spokesman.
Senegal is a democratic country with a population that is more than 90 percent Muslim. Tourism is the second largest industry after fishing, and the country has a major mining industry. Unlike many of its neighbors, the island has never seen a coup d’etat and likely won’t because of its appreciation for democracy, Mr. Gueye said.
“We believe in polls,” he said.
Mr. Gueye has heard that officials in Dakar are talking about putting a consulate in Atlanta but had no insight as to whether that would happen or when. Senegal Tourism Minister Thierno Lo will lead a five-person delegation to Atlanta next week to officially open the tourism office.