Reviving Saharan tourism

Algeria is trying to give the Saharan tourism industry a boost and attract domestic and foreign tourists. In terms of area, the country is the biggest in the African continent and the tenth largest in the world.

Following improvements in security measures, its Saharan area, which is home to many UNESCO World Heritage sites, attracted more foreigners last year than it has in the recent past. It’s not surprising then that the authorities consider Saharan tourism as a growth driver and a real locomotive factor for sustainable socioeconomic development.

Saharan tourism season

Every year, the Saharan tourism season officially kicks off by the end of September. Although the income of this industry is still limited, authorities believe it will improve following the recent efforts to promote the region and develop infrastructure facilities.

The country’s National Tourism Office (NTO) intends to build several holiday-dedicated villages in various southern locations. Among other things, the office’s director, Cherif Selatnia, said: “A holiday village with a 300-bed capacity will be built in Adrar, Timimoun. This capacity will be raised to 1,200 beds after the completion of the project.”

He added that two additional holiday villages, each with a 300-bed capacity, are expected to be launched in Bechar, Taghit and Béjaia, Lethnin, while the Djanet residency will be strengthened with 40 extra beds. Another 96-bed facility will be introduced in Ighli, Bechar, including a small complex of 958 beds to be launched in Adrar.

These tourist facilities will be introduced according to international standards and will be equipped with leisure facilities, sports halls and conference rooms, Selatnia said. In 2015, the state successfully created more than 45,000 sleeping accommodations.

The country’s tourism industry officials highlight their effort to promote domestic tourism by providing comfortable accommodation facilities and quality services. According to Selatnia, more conventions are being planned with partners such as Air Algérie, which is offering a 50 percent reduction in ticket prices for tourists.

Before the early ’90s, Algeria’s vast southern area, a desert region, was developing into a major tourist destination after years of growing tourism in the breathtaking Tassili and Hoggar Mountain ranges. Efforts are now on to revive that era. Due to the economic situation, Selatnia explained, “Now, more than ever, we need to promote domestic tourism and also convince our citizens to spend their holidays in Algeria as we need to step up efforts to save foreign currency.”

Tapping tourism potential

Minister of National Planning, Tourism and Craft Industry Abdelouahab Nouri stated that the tourism sector in Algeria contributed 1.5 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). By 2015, some 750 projects with a total value of roughly €2.5 billion were underway.

They were sponsored by the private sector with the aim of creating 45,000 sleeping accommodations. “In the neighboring countries, this rate reaches seven or eight percent,” he said, adding: “Hard work is necessary to promote this sector and allow it to effectively contribute to the national economy.”

The minister called on Algerian businessmen to be contribute to the development of the tourism sector. He underlined the need to involve the private sector in this long-term endeavor, saying: “Without the contribution of the private sector we can’t develop the quality of services.” According to him: “The authorities’ strong will and the existing potential allow us to work together to develop the tourism sector and give it the place it deserves.”

The country has benefited from many projects that are underway to facilitate the growth of tourism.

Outlook for 2030

By 2030, the country’s tourism sector plans to create 2.5 million jobs and contribute 860 billion dinars to the GDP. The tourism industry is also promoting local art and craft as part of the country’s effort to showcase local heritage.

According to the ministry in charge of this sector, authorities understand the importance of upgrading human resources, improving craft product quality and modernizing tourist facilities. The tourism industry has witnessed the launch of 2,500 new tourism projects in 2016. This is part of the new national program aimed at promoting tourist attractions and introducing 500,000 beds in the short term. According to tourism authorities, the government’s recent efforts will help create 120,000 new beds by the end of this year.

Till now, the art and craft industry has created 867,000 jobs. The craft business’ contribution to the GDP amounted to 230 billion dinars.

Authorities have called various bodies to step up their efforts to develop the craft industry and help it gain the position it deserves in the national economy.

Security improvements

The security situation has now vastly improved in the country. According to local tour operators, it’s now safe enough to organize tours and host tourists without any security-related fears.During the country’s dark decade, tourism activity in the desert area was totally abandoned. Since 2000, Algerian authorities became well aware of the need to promote desert tourism, which could make a significant contribution to economic development.

According to official figures, close to 127,000 tourists visited the five southern provinces of the country in 2013. “Some 127,000 tourists, including 7,000 foreigners, visited the provinces of Ghardaia, Tamanrasset, Biskra, Illizi and Bechar during the last quarter of 2013,” according to the Ministry of Tourism. Bringing tourism back to these levels is seen by many as a means to make up for the dwindling oil revenue.

Boughali Toufik, manager of M’zab Tour, a tour operator located in the southwest of Algeria, told TRENDS that the last Saharan tourism season of 2015-16 was positive. “Our tourism agency welcomed a total of 776 tourists – 653 were Algerian nationals and 123 foreigners,” he said.

Commenting on the current security situation, Toufik said the security measures are improving with every season. “My impression of the current security situation in the southern area of the country is very positive,” he noted. “The hosting of tourists, whether from the domestic market or from abroad, is also improving with every season.”

All tourist attractions are now open. Despite conflict and war erupting in neighboring countries, Algeria has managed to secure its long border, facilitating the reopening of all tourist areas, such as that in the area of Djanet.”

According to Toufik, all tourist areas and attractions for foreigners in Tamanrasset and Hoggar are also secured and accessible. “As part of our efforts to improve tourism, M’zab Tour has been organizing various tourist packages in the south of Algeria,” he said.

Focusing on the south

Algeria has made the development of its southern region a national priority. Its efforts not only aim at developing the tourism industry in this part of the country but also at improving the standard of living of the local population.

The government has committed itself to investing in the southern regions and its people. This state program dates back to 2006, when the country started hosting the international Festival of Cultures and Civilizations of Desert Peoples. This week-long event celebrated desert peoples from all over the world.

Algeria’s southern Sahara has immense natural resources unspoilt by man or nature. The region of Taghit, well known to foreign tourists, is an oasis located 1,130 km southwest of the capital of Algiers. It is situated at the western edge of the Great Erg Occidental.

Taghit abounds in culture and natural treasures, including breath-taking tourist spots. In 2007, authorities inaugurated a reserve around a small oasis in the country’s southwest, aimed at protecting animals and plants.

“The Taghit National Park covers a surface area of 250,000 hectares, which could be extended to 500,000 hectares with the inclusion of the neighboring Guir region,” according to the National Agency for the Conservation of Nature.

More than 110 species of birds have been documented in the area of Taghit’s National Park. These two regions of Algeria’s south cover an area representing the size of France and are among the hottest places on earth. Across this vast territory, oases survive on water coming from the underground phreatic layer.

Touat and Gourara are considered as a leading tourist destinations, along with Tassili N’Ajjet, the Gardens of Saoura and Tamanrasset. Efforts are under way to develop and promote these destinations along with newer attractions.

As part of the government’s efforts to promote Algeria as a tourist destination, a meeting on tourism will soon be held in the country’s capital. One of the main objectives of this event, which will bring together international experts to study the challenges of development and investment in Algeria, is to develop a strategy aimed at reviving the country’s tourism industry.

The NTO also participated in the Paris’ International Tourism Fair last month. Through this participation, the country’s tourism office aimed at “promoting Algeria as a major tourism destination.”

Given that France accounts for a large number of foreign tourist arrivals to Algeria, it is not surprising that the NTO is making an all-out bid to attract more French travelers. By all accounts, the government has stepped up its efforts to develop and promote Saharan tourism – and bring it back into the spotlight.