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Algeria Takes New Measures to Boost Desert Tourism

Algeria Takes New Measures to Boost Desert Tourism

Monday, 23 January, 2023 - 08:15
View of snow in the Sahara, Ain Sefra, Algeria (File photo: Reuters)

Algeria seeks to attract foreign tourists through a series of measures that encourage desert tourism in the south of the country, following in the footsteps of Saudi Arabia, which opened its doors to foreign tourists for the first time in 2019.

Bloomberg news agency reported that Algeria is planning to ease access for international travelers, according to an Interior Ministry document.

The ministry's statement announced the approval of new arrangements for granting tourist visas to foreign tourists wishing to visit the south of the country in close coordination with the various ministerial sectors and relevant bodies.

Visitors may be issued tourist visas on arrival, allowing them to explore desolate landscapes and ancient monuments in the country as an alternative to the long and futile bureaucratic process before travel.

In this regard, it was decided to enable foreigners wishing to undertake tourist trips to the country's south through approved national tourism and travel agencies to benefit from the settlement visa directly upon arrival at the border crossings, especially in the southern states.

According to the ministry, the concerned foreign tourists benefit from a document handed over to them by their tourism agencies, allowing them to board various airlines' planes at the airports.

The tourists also benefit, directly upon their arrival, from settlement visas with a period corresponding to their organized visit.

The decision is effective now, although the tourism season, which locals and Algerians from abroad have largely dominated, typically covers the cooler months beginning in October.

However, Bloomberg noted that there's an issue as visitors will only be welcome in the south of the country covering the Sahara desert, meaning it will be harder to travel to the Mediterranean coastline, winter skiing in the Atlas mountains, or the ancient capital of Algiers.

Tourists must book through an approved travel agency operating in Algeria and will be accompanied by the police, according to the ministry's statement.

The Ministry of Interior stated that the accredited tourism agencies include all data related to the tourist visit program and the foreign tourists participating.

In addition, the local authorities of the concerned states are working to provide the necessary escorts for all the actors concerned to ensure the conduct of the programmed tours in the best conditions.

Bloomberg noted that the move represents a step change for a country that never sought to become a major travel destination like regional neighbors Morocco and Egypt.

While they were building new hotels and stepping up campaigns to draw mass-market tourism in the 1990s, Algeria was mired in a brutal civil war with Islamist militants, and subsequent rulers of the OPEC nation looked inward and relied on oil to bankroll the state.

The President of the National Association of Travel Agencies, Mohammed Amine Berredjem, said they were pleased with this decision, which would undoubtedly positively impact the tourism sector and the country.

The Algerian tourism sector contributes only 1.5 percent of the gross domestic product, compared to 14 percent in Tunisia.

Bloomberg added that Algeria is also lagging in terms of hotel infrastructure, with 127,000 beds at the end of 2020, compared to 230,903 in its eastern neighbor (Tunisia), a much smaller country.

More than a million Algerians cross the border every summer to spend their holidays in Tunisia, where the offers are more varied, and the prices are more reasonable.

Algeria's government is calling on foreign investors to finance and build tourist complexes, and a framework agreement has been signed between Qatar's Retaj Hotels and Hospitality and Algeria's state-owned HTT for the mobilization of funds. Retaj will also provide management services to HTT's 73 hotels.

Yet some are still determining if the transformation would be a smooth one.

"We hope for quick answers to requests of travel agencies," said Lamine Hamadi, director of tourism of the province of Djanet, the region most visited by tourists. "Long delays scare away tourists."

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