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Algeria seeks to lure tourists to neglected cultural, scenic glories

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Algeria wants to lure more visitors to the cultural and scenic treasures of Africa's largest country, shedding its status as a tourism backwater and expanding a sector outshone by competitors in neighbouring Morocco and Tunisia.

A view shows the Santa Cruz chapel in the city of Oran, Reuters/Abdelaziz Boumzar

Algeria wants to lure more visitors to the cultural and scenic treasures of Africa's largest country, shedding its status as a tourism backwater and expanding a sector outshone by competitors in neighbouring Morocco and Tunisia.

The giant north African country offers Roman and Islamic sites, beaches and mountains just an hour's flight from Europe, and haunting Saharan landscapes, where visitors can sleep on dunes under the stars and ride camels with Tuareg nomads.

But while tourist-friendly Morocco welcomed 14.5 million visitors in 2023, bigger, richer Algeria hosted just 3.3 million foreign tourists, according the tourism ministry.

About 1.2 million of those holiday-makers were Algerians from the disapora visiting families.

The lack of travellers is testimony to Algeria's neglect of a sector that remains one of world tourism's undiscovered gems.

As Algeria's oil and gas revenues grew in the 1960s and 70s, successive governments lost interest in developing mass tourism. A descent into political strife in the 1990s pushed the country further off the beaten track.

But while security is now much improved, Algeria needs to tackle an inflexible visa system and poor transport links, as well as grant privileges to local and foreign private investors to enable tourism to flourish, analysts say.

Saliha Nacerbay, General Director of the National Tourism Office, outlined plans to attract 12 million tourists by 2030 - an ambitious fourfold increase.

"To achieve this, we, as the tourism and traditional industry sector, are seeking to encourage investments, provide facilities to investors, build tourist and hotel facilities," she said, speaking at the International Tourism and Travel Fair, hosted in Algiers from May 30 to June 2.

Algeria has plans to build hotels and restructure and modernize existing ones. The tourism ministry said that about 2,000 tourism projects have been approved so far, 800 of which are currently under construction.

The country is also restoring its historical sites, with 249 locations earmarked for tourism expansion. Approximately 70 sites have been prepared, and restoration plans are underway for 50 additional sites, officials said.

French tourist Patrick Lebeau emphasised the need to improve infrastructure to fully realise Algeria's tourism prospects.

"Obviously, there is a lot of tourism potential, but much work still needs to be done to attract us," Lebeau said.

Tourism and travel provided 543,500 jobs in Algeria in 2021, according to the Statista website. In contrast, tourism professionals in Morocco estimate the sector provides 700,000 direct jobs in the kingdom, and many more jobs indirectly.

Writing by Tarek Amara,

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