Algeria eyes developing tourism sector to boost national income

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View of an Algerian coastal town on the Mediterranean Sea.

Algeria plans to attract some 3.5 million tourists per year starting in 2015 by heavily investing in the tourism sector, the tourism minister announced. The government said it wants to take steps in the right direction in a bid to move its economy away from reliance on oil and gas.

According to the minister, foreign visitors to Algeria did not exceed more than 2 million last year despite blessed with unspoiled mountains, pristine Mediterranean coastline and spectacular desert landscape. Analysts believe the country’s image abroad suffered badly due to prolonged strife that continued from 1992-2002. Many foreign tourists were attacked and killed during the decade old conflict that saw Islamist extremist groups wrestle with the country’s secular army. A lack of tourism infrastructure and bureaucratic visa rules are the other main reasons that the North African nation lags behind its Mediterranean neighbours.

“The Algerian authorities have ambitious plans to launch the tourism sector, aiming to raise the accommodation capacity from 90,000 beds to 160,000 beds in three years,” Tourism Minister Smail Mimoune told Reuters during an interview on the sidelines of a regional tourism conference on the Tunisian island of Djerba.

He also denied suggestions that al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the Algerian-based North African outfit of al Qaeda, posed any threat to the country.

“We aim to receive 3.5 million tourists (per year) in three years and hope that income from the sector rises to $600 million in the same period,” he added.

Mimoune disclosed that the country earned just $400 million from tourism, a tiny proportion of national income for Algeria, if compared to around $70 billion it earned from oil and gas revenues last year.

Neighbouring Tunisia and Morocco earn a sizeable chunk of their national income from tourism.

Algeria has been using its windfall from oil income to stimulate the economy and create new jobs by initiating infrastructure projects, raising public sector wages, extending food subsidies and granting micro credit facility to promote small businesses.

“The government plans to use a combination of private and public investment to improve its hotel offer – including building 70 new hotels – and overseas promotion of its cultural sites and mountain resorts to attract more visitors,” Mimoune said.

“These plans are very realistic because the private sector in Algeria will earmark $4 billion for tourism investments, including in luxury hotels, and the government has decided to invest $1 billion to upgrade existing hotels to meet the demands of modern tourists because most of the hotels in Algeria are old,” he added.

“We will intensify promotion abroad through the media and external communications to revive this important sector with the aim of diversifying the economy.”

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