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Mourad Teyeb 

North Africa: Emerging destinations boost regional profit
by:
Mourad Teyeb 

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The four countries of the Maghreb form one of the strongest tourism units in this region, and with the potential of Libya and Algeria very much unrealized, their profile in the international tourism arena can only be set to grow.

With the re-emergence of Libya, initial interest in Algeria and strong growth in both Morocco and Tunisia, the countries of North Africa are once again at the forefront of the international tourism industry. According to 1999 figures, Tunisia and Morocco remained on the list of the world's top 40 tourism destinations. Tunisia ranked 29th, a position it has held since 1990, while Morocco was 38th on the list, falling from the 25th position of 1990.

The same figures indicate that tourism to both of these countries is dominated by the large European source markets, although arrivals from other countries of the Maghreb are significant, especially for Tunisia. In Morocco, the tourism industry has been strengthened in recent years by the entry of international hotel chains, an ongoing privatization policy, new air links and the creation of regional airlines. However, high taxes on tourism establishments and the lack of sea routes linking it to Europe cold be holding it back.

However, last year arrivals were expected to have risen by 18 per cent compared to the previous year, reaching 2.7 million, according to minister of tourism, Hassan Sebbar. "Morocco is becoming very fashionable through developments of air carriers Royal Air Maroc and British Airways and the growing interest among many tour operators," added general manager of the Moroccan National Tourist Office, Abdelhamid Boumediene.

Meanwhile, in neighboring Algeria, the fledgling tourism industry has seen arrivals steadily climb since the early nineties and they now top the 650.000 mark.. The opining of a Sheraton in Algiers earlier this year is helping raise the country's profile as a pan-African conference destination, while the first European carrier, Alitalia, has recently restarted flights there.

In Tunisia, revenue from tourism reached record levels in 1999, according to ministry of tourism sources, with figures expected to have surpassed US$ 1.6 billion.

And although UN sanctions against Libya were suspended last year fuelling high hopes of a successful return to the tourism arena, arrivals are still low and are set to remain this way for the next couple of years.

While movement within the Maghreb is quite strong and an important facet of each country' industry, arrivals from the Gulf and Middle East do not form a major market segment - traditional markets have been Europe and adventure travelers. However, Morocco will this year launch a serious drive to attract more Arab visitors, by participating in travel shows in Dubai, Cairo and Beirut.

Meanwhile in Tunisia, priorities for the coming years include diversification and enriching touristic activities, as well as improving the quality of services, sales and marketing and the touristic environment. Diversification will see greater emphasis being given to new products such as thalassotherapy, golf, ecological tourism and cultural tourism. The country's ninth development Plan 1997- 2001 calls for a four-pronged approach to develop tourism:

  • Enriching and diversifying the product and exploring new markets

  • Improving quality of service

  • Upgrading infrastructure and improving tourist areas

  • Consolidating the private sector's role in the tourist sector.

Privatization programmers in both main north African markets will also do much to improve the tourism product. Adding to the current optimism in Tunisia was the appointment in November of Muhammad Ghanouchi, a business-friendly economist, to the post of prime minister.

In a country where private investment is the method of choice for tourism development, "Ghannouchi' s nomination is a clear message that foreign investment will be strongly boosted", said the head of a reputed international banking corporation, Tunis branch. Foreign investors have also welcomed his appointment, which comes on the heels of the government withdrawing almost entirely from the tourism sector. The sale last year of the 320-bed five-star Hotel Africa (formerly run by Le Méridien group) in Tunis, which includes a cinema, offices and a shopping mall, was a prime example of the growing drive towards privatization. In Morocco, the national airline, Royal Air Maroc, is in the throes of being privatized, with developments expected last January.

Going hand in hand with the growing arrivals and expectations for more is the upgrading of airports in both Tunisia and Morocco. Ongoing efforts to upgrade airport facilities in Morocco have received a boost, with the extension of Casablanca's Mohammed V airport, to be financed by Kuwait's Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, which has extended a loan worth about $ 32.7 million. The extension project will include a takeoff runway and faculties for carriers, the purchase of mobile bridges to receive planes and the upgrading of parking lots and roads leading to the airport. It is expected to cost and estimated $ 37.5 million.

In Tunisia, the largest airport, Tunis-Carthage, has expanded capacity to 4.5 millions, up from three million, while work is underway at Monastir-Skanes to increase capacity to five million a year. Djerba has plans to double capacity by 2001.Construction is also continuing at new airports planned for Gabes and Enfidha, with the latter projected to become the largest airport in Tunisia, with a projected annual capacity of 30 million passengers by the middle of the century.

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Mourad Teyeb Mourad Teyeb holds degrees in English and Literature, Educational Psychology, and Computer Science.  Fluent in English, French, Arabic, German, and Italian. Mourad's, Mourad trained with the African Center for the Training and with Recycling of  Journalists, Tunisian Papers and Magazines.  In additional to journalism, Mourad has also had travel agent tour operating training. (More about Mourad Teyeb.)

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