Though small (it has less than 600,000 people), Gabon’s capital Libreville is a bustling port city on the Komo River. In recent years, the oil-rich west African country has seen an increase in business travel.
For first time businessmen and women traveling to Gabon, expect wide avenues reminiscent of Paris, and beautiful French-inspired buildings and monuments.
The per capita income of Gabon is about $10,000, and you’ll appreciate the government’s investment in education as you engage with cab drivers, hotel staff, and locals; they are all reasonably well educated.
Number one on our list of places to stay while doing business in Libreville is Le Meridien Hotel. However the recommendation is not without its qualifications. The hotel is worn and in need of renovation, but because it carries an international hotel management flag, Meridien by Starwood, it is accustomed to receiving international visitors. Its staff is accustomed to speaking English, and will accept your American Express credit card. As for its amenities, the business center is reasonably well equipped, and the WiFi is of an acceptable speed.
Second on the list is the Onomo Libreville Hotel. While not located in the central business district, it is very close to the American Embassy. In contrast to Le Meridien, Onomo is newly built, in pristine condition, and boasts an urban trendy design. WiFi is available in rooms, and runs generally well; it is also free. On the downside, the rooms are small, and the common areas are open-plan, so that there are no quiet corners to have a discrete business meeting or cup of coffee; everything is in a central area that buzzes with energy.
The Nomad Residential Hotel is another excellent choice for accommodation in Libreville. Just ten minutes away from the central city, this beautifully designed hotel offers great comfort and convenience with its spectacular suites and ideal location. The Nomad offers free shuttle service to and from the airport, and organizes car rentals. The apartments are spacious and have practical office nooks. The entire hotel is equipped with WiFi. There is a business center, and seminar rooms with dedicated staff. Finally, the Nomad has a fitness center, restaurant, and VIP lounge.
The Laico Okoume Palace Hotel is next on our list. This beachfront hotel provides complimentary airport shuttle service at scheduled times, and boasts multilingual staff members. Additionally, the Okoume Palace Hotel features a business center with secretarial services, and small meeting rooms. There are two restaurants, a café, and a bar and lounge. Complimentary wireless and wired high-speed internet is available throughout the hotel. In sum, the Okoume Palace Hotel is reminiscent of Le Meridien: a standard hotel for international business travelers with top notch services, but in need of renovations, which it is currently undergoing.
The best option to go to and from the Libreville Leon M’ba International Airport is to organize transportation with your hotel beforehand, as many hotels offer airport shuttle services. If your hotel does not offer such a service, you may consider renting a car and driving to your destination. However there is limited GPS navigation service in the region.
It is important to note that during the rainy/wet season, all forms of road transportion becomes difficult, or nearly impossible on some days.
Cars can be rented at the main hotels and at the Libreville Leon M’ba International Airport. But roads’ conditions can be difficult and inaccessible away from the central business district and airport. We suggest business travelers hire a chauffeured car for local commuting. Both chauffeured cars and taxis are reasonably priced.
Credit cards are not universally accepted. Some of the best hotels, including the ones listed above, ask that you pay for your first night in advance with cash. Come prepared with a wad of cash. Visa and Mastercard are accepted at most major hotels. You’re likely to have some trouble with American Express.
When you leave the large international hotels, you’ll find that Gabon’s economy is largely cash-based. Because of the strong Francophone influence, you can get away with using Euros in most places. Dollars are accepted, but not to the same degree as Euros.
We suggest, as we do for many countries, traveling in Gabon with 50 single dollar bills or 50 single Euro notes, so that you do not have to change money.
ATMs are available in major urban centers. We advise using recognizable international banks. This is the most effective way of getting Central African Francs (CFA), Gabon’s local currency.
The major cellphone operators in Gabon are Airtel, Azur, Libertis, and Moov.
When traveling in most major cities in Africa, Libreville included, you have a choice of a) using your cell phone and phone number from home and making roaming calls; however, roaming in Gabon only works with certain carriers and is variable or b) buying a local SIM card, thus operating with a local number, charging it with airtime locally. The difference in price is huge.
For international calls to the US, Europe, etc., we highly recommend using Skype or Google voice. You should set up these accounts before you leave home. If, for example, you are in a hotel with free WiFi, a Skype account that has been set up for unlimited calls to US phone numbers for a flat $4/month, will allow you to dial any number in the US with unlimited talk time. This is the best way to stay in touch with people in the US, Europe, South Africa, etc.
For local calls, we recommend purchasing an inexpensive cell phone that is “unlocked” before you leave home (or using an old cell phone that you no longer use). Unlocked means that the phone can take a SIM card from any carrier. If you have a US or European phone that is locked (i.e., tied to a carrier), you can ask the carrier to “unlock” it. Alternatively, there are a number of websites that for a small fee of under $10, will provide you with specific instructions on how to “unlock” your cell phone. Simply Google the words “unlock cell phone” and you will find a large number of choices.
Is it safe to travel there?
Safety and security is of relatively low concern in Gabon; however, crime has been steadily increasing in major cities like Libreville and Port Gentil. For updated safety and travel news on Gabon, we recommend visiting the British government’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office page HERE.
Another useful source for assessing safety and security is the Ibrahim Index, founded by Sudanese businessman Mo Ibrahim. The Ibrahim Index ranks African countries relative to one another, and ranks Gabon’s personal safety as 7 out of 52 countries (1 being best, 52nd worst). You’ll find more information on the Ibrahim Index score for Gabon HERE.
French is both the official language of Gabon, and the primary business language.
Like most African countries, Gabon is influenced by western business attire. Expect to see both men and women dressed up in suits.
It is customary to greet people using their titles and last name in Gabon. However, Gabonese people are very communal, and forming close relationships and familiarity can happen relatively soon. They are also direct in their speech, which may come across as offensive and/or confrontational.
Electrical Outlet: voltage: 2.5 A/250 V unearthed
The Type C plug, popularly known as the Europlug, unearthed with two rounded pins, is generally used throughout Gabon.
Additional reporting by Dexter Padayachee