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» 15.02.2011 - Call for massive renewed protests in Algeria
» 14.02.2011 - Algeria govt seeks to avoid mass protests
» 12.02.2011 - Saharawis at unease over Algeria, Morocco unrest
» 08.02.2011 - Large student protests in Algeria
» 03.02.2011 - Algeria prepares protests despite govt threats
» 02.07.2010 - Algeria wants tourists back to desert pearls
» 17.11.2009 - Algerian company celebrate first order for Boeing
» 10.08.2009 - Algeria scores major deal in vehicles production

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Travel - Leisure | Economy - Development | Politics

Algeria desert tourism finally recovering

Cave paintings at Algeria's world heritage site Tassili n'Ajjer:
«A promising tourist season.»

© Unesco / afrol News
afrol News, 31 October
- Before violence broke out in Algeria in 1992, the country's vast southern desert region was developing into a major tourist destination. After years of tourism drought in the breathtaking Tassili and Hoggar mountain ranges, local tour operators report of a new boom in arrivals. National statistics prove they are right.

Helge Baardseth was a tour guide for Scandinavian charter adventure tourists visiting the Algerian desert region in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Since the political trouble tore Algeria apart in 1992, there were no tourists to lead to the country, but in February, Mr Baardseth plans to return to the Hoggar Mountains for the first time with a group of ten Norwegian climbers, longing to revive Algerian memories from happier days.

The Scandinavians are in no way risk seeking pioneers; they are indeed following a trend that set off last year. The provincial authority of Illizi, which hosts the UNESCO-registered World Heritage Site of Tassili n'Ajjer, recently published its 2005 report noting that almost 16,000 tourists had visited the province last year, much more than the pessimistic projection of 5,700 foreign visitors.

Also this year, the Tassili region in the far south of Algeria foresees a "promising tourist season," the state news agency APS reported today. Only in October, more than 1,200 tourists from different European countries had visited the region located 1925 kilometres southeast of Algiers, arriving by air and by road. Arrivals - which normally are at their peak during winter - were set to beat 2005 numbers.

This is also confirmed by Cherif Amouche, a local tour operator organising 4WD excursions into the desert and mountains from his base in Djanet, the main town in the Tassili Massive close to the Libyan border. Mr Amouche says the tourism industry in Djanet has been lifeless for 15 years, but holds that things started booming last year.

In February, Mr Amouche looks forward to receive Mr Baardseth and his group of Scandinavians, as he did annually 15 years ago. Gourmet cooks and local guides, drivers and mechanics are to accompany the tourists on their 4WD expedition into the Hoggar, where the group plans to engage in mountain hiking and climbing in one of the world's most spectacular ranges. The costly tour is sure to generate revenues and employment in the small desert society.

Mr Baardseth and his group are all excited about their return to the Algerian south. "It has been a long-felt need among adventure tourist," he told afrol News, adding that the 15-year break in trips to the Algerian desert had "left a notable and unwanted white spot on the map."

Lunar landscape in Algeria's Tassili Mountains:
«Gourmet cooks, local guides, drivers and mechanics.»

© Unesco / afrol News

Charter tours to the famous destinations of Tamanrasset, Djanet, Hoggar and Tassili n'Ajjer were impossible to organise after 1992. "It was difficult to take tourists to the region when the newspapers were full of reports of political violence in Algeria, and it was problematic that one had to make a stop-over in Algiers," Mr Baardseth said.

While the Algerian warfare between Islamists and the government ended several years ago, Algiers has yet to gain full control of its vast desert south. Al Qaeda affiliated groups are operating along the southern border. In 2003, a group of 32 European tourists were kidnapped in the desert. Still, the situation is tense in many parts of Algeria. Only today, terrorists detonated bombs outside two police stations in Reghaia, outside Algiers.

Generally, however, the security situation has improved strongly in Algeria. In the opinion of Mr Baardseth, it is now safe enough to participate in organised tours in the country. "The conflicts that earlier made the area insecure by now seem resolved, at least to such a degree that it is no longer necessary choosing not to go there," he told afrol News.

This is also the message that Algerian authorities want to communicate, as the general image of the country abroad is still one of violence and terror. For the last two years, Algiers has reformed its legislation to ease foreign and local investments in the tourism sector. The government qualifies the country's tourism resources its "second oil resource," referring to its main export article, petroleum.

The message has reached through in some parts of the world, as in particular French investments in the sector are rapidly increasing. By now, there is even a French discount airliner, Aigle Azur, flying non-stop from several cities in France to Djanet and Tamanrasset the desert and to coastal cities like Algiers, Oran and Annaba.

Not everybody agrees to these optimistic security assessments, however. The US State Department still advises its citizens against travelling to Algeria, saying "the security environment in rural and remote areas continues to pose a significant security risk." The British Foreign Office, which updated its Algerian travel advises only last week, reminds Britons that "there is a continuing threat from terrorism in Algeria."

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