Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Hotel Ivoire in Abidjan, Reopened


The inclusion of the Intercontinental Hotel emblems on last week's vintage Pan Am schedules reminded me of a somewhat-recent development in Abidjan: Last November's re-opening of the grand and towering Hotel Ivoire. The 24- and 3-story towers of luxury, the first of which opened in 1963 and the second added during a substantial expansion in 1970, stood as perhaps the most grand of the grands projets of President Houphou√ęt-Boigny's reign (the above is a vintage postcard: the original hotel tower is at right).

The Economist supposedly once named the Hotel Ivoire the most beautiful in the world at the time. While the property won't be regaining that mark of distinction, it is in its own symbolic way, a sign of the return of the city, the country, and even the region to some of the accouterments of cosmopolitanism that it enjoyed in previous decades. As the website shows, the hotel is all very up-to-date in a bland, warm-climate-Marriott sort of way; my French isn't great but I didn't see any mention of the re-opening of the famous ice-skating rink, one of the few in Africa. Not that its any more utilitarian now then it was twenty years ago.

Like the extent of Africa's erstwhile airline service, it can be astonishing to realize how many international hotels once dotted the skylines of post-independence capitals, especially since most African capitals today have metropolitan populations as large as the head count of the entire country at independence. I've long thought the index of such ghosts of an earlier globalization makes a handy proxy for the heights that Africa's economies and interconnections once reached, and have fallen from, and while there are signs that these are returning, there are still more cities south of the Sahara with former Sheratons and Swissair service than current---so there is some way to go just to regain these marks of distinction that the continent enjoyed decades ago.

While yet another overpriced West African hotel undoubtedly booked full by foreign oil-prospectors, and cocoa-dealers, development consultants, and government ministers, its reopening is a sign of the phoenix rising from the ashes for the property, the city, and the country.

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