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Developing Tourism in Eritrea

Tourism is one of the most dynamic socioeconomic sectors in the world today, and continues to grow in the global market.

United Nations World Tourism Organization defines tourism as: “Social-economic aspects which allow the movement of people to countries or places outside their usual environment for personal, business and professional purposes.” Tourism has long been regarded as the largest smokeless industry to impact the overall growth of national economies. With the increase in the rate of globalization, tourism has become one of the largest and fastest growing sectors in the world.

The Government of Eritrea is taking important steps to develop the tourism industry to ensure the contribution of tourism toward the overall development programs. In the past twenty seven years Eritrea has taken a modest initiative at renovation and construction of transport infrastructures and hospitality facilities on the tourist attraction sites. In addition to that, important measures have been taken to protect Eritrea’s natural environment and cultural heritage. The development of the service sector holds a central place in the development of tourism.

The infrastructure of Eritrea was severely affected during the wars for Eritrea’s independence and to protect its sovereignty. As of 2002, immediately after the end of the TPLF-instigated war of aggression, the government launched a development and rehabilitation program. Overall government expenditures on infrastructure accounted for 13% of the total government expenditure for that period (IPRSP, 2004, p18). The Government is undertaking major infrastructure rehabilitation and development programmes. In addition to Asmara international airport, a modern and competitive international airport was constructed in Massawa. Tourist centers were constructed in Dahlak islands. Asmara – Massawa railway was renovated. A new vein of tourist road was constructed through the green belt of Semenawi Bahri. Large water dam projects and electric power generation are underway.

According to Eritrea’s Tourism Proclamation No.152/2006, “tourism” means the business of providing travel, accommodation, hospitality and information services to tourists on a commercial basis and other ancillary services, which facilitate the requirements of tourists. A tourist is a person who stays at least one night in Eritrea, in either private or commercial accommodation, but whose stay does not exceed twelve months and whose main purpose of visit is not to work. Eritrea has significant potential for the development of tourism. Climate is an influential factor in determining the destination areas to which recreational tourists travel. In addition to the scenic views enjoyed in the journey from highland Asmara to the coastal town of Massawa, one can also experience three seasons in a two-hour drive. Eritrea has pleasant climate and warm and clean waters of the Red Sea. The country has a coastline of more than 1,000 kilometers and about 350 offshore islands. The clean beaches and offshore islands with the diversity of terrestrial and marine animals is another potential resource. Such an endowment gives Eritrea a great potential in beach and marine resort tourism. Eritrea has attractive physical structure with scenic beauty ranging from high ground of above 3000 meters to low-lying areas of 100 meters below sea level. Aided by the physical structure and diversity, Eritrea has a viable potential for adventure tourism. Expeditions to the Danakil Depression and mountain climbing in Soira and Kohaito and other personally challenging activities can attract tourists.

The mosaic, peaceful and hospitable people is an additional resource that could make the tourists stay enjoyable. Eritrea can also be the center of health tourism with its hot springs. Its geographic location makes it ‘the gate way to Africa’, and the peace and safety that is prevalent in the country gives it a comparative advantage over the rest of Africa.

Tourism has become a vital source of income for many countries. Tourism generates income through the consumption of goods and services by tourists and the taxes levied on businesses in the tourism industry. Tourism also creates wide employment opportunities. Besides that it plays an important role in the promotion of mutual understanding among people of various countries and cultures.

Taking all the natural and human conditions of Eritrea into consideration, tourism should hold the lion’s share in the country’s income. In many countries tourism is playing an increasingly important role in the national economy. For example, it has been said that the income generated from travel and tourism is larger than the GDP of the automotive manufacturing sector in China. Therefore, in order to fully gain the benefits of tourism, the government and the private sector should work in collaboration. Eritrea’s tourism industry is in its embryonic stage waiting for the government and the private sector to invest. The natural and cultural elements of Eritrea are conducive for the development of successful tourism industry.

The economy of Eritrea is primarily based on agriculture, small-scale industry, fisheries and a service sector including tourism. Poverty reduction and economic growth have been the central objectives of the Eritrean government since independence. Poverty reduction is Eritrea’s major challenge and is placed at the top of the development agenda. To use tourism as one of the means to improve the living standards of Eritreans is an option on the table. With its abundant archaeological and cultural attractions and natural endowments Eritrea has the potential to become the most sought tourist destination.

The development of tourism will definitely facilitate the nation building process of Eritrea. Besides, tourism could aid the country’s diplomatic venture. In the past Eritrea was made a victim of the erroneous political agenda. Various diplomatic and political machinations were attempted to isolate the country. The development of tourism can greatly help introduce the true essence of the country to the world. Therefore, Eritrea has to use tourism as a vehicle for introducing its own history, nature and culture to the wider international community.

The Eritrea 2020 Tourism Development Plan states that Eritrea has significant opportunities for developing tourism. The opportunities for developing tourism in Eritrea include natural environment, especially good beaches and marine areas suitable for diving, scenic and wildlife in national parks and some hot springs. There are also cultural heritage resources including archaeological and historic sites, the architectural riches of the towns, and cultural patterns of various ethnic groups.

Heritage is a fundamental resource and has always been a major tourist attraction. Heritage can supply genuine attractions for tourism but excessive tourism may threaten heritage preservation. Eritrea is signatory to three major international conventions that have relevance to tourism and the preservation of heritage. Eritrea is a signatory to the World Heritage Convention of 1972, the 2003 Convention on the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage and the 1954 Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. In addition to these international conventions Eritrea enacted its own national heritage protection laws, titled “proclamation no. 177/2015 Cultural and Natural Heritage Proclamation”. According to this proclamation Cultural Heritage means any tangible or intangible resource which is the product of human creativity and labor in the discernible historical times describing and witnessing to such creativity and labor because of its scientific, archeological, historical, cultural, artistic, architectural or aesthetic value or content ultimately bearing the identity and/or collective memory of peoples or communities. As cited in the proclamation, one objective of the proclamation is to establish an integrated and interactive system at all levels and lay down the general principles for the identification, assessment, registration, preservation, protection and development of Cultural and Natural Heritage of Eritrea for the present and future generations.

Sustainable development should be the fundamental basis of development plans. The natural and cultural resources for tourism must be conserved for continuous use in the future, while still bringing benefits to the present society. On top of that the benefits of tourism should be distributed widely throughout the society.

Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, is not only the political center but also a cultural, and tourist center of Eritrea. The city has many places of historic interest and scenic architectural beauty. Eritrea has great potential of urban tourism which is based on architectural magnificence especially in Asmara, Massawa and Keren. It has also amusing historical sites associated with the struggle for independence. The war museum in Nakfa, war cemetery in Asmara, the trenches of Sahel and the materials available in Massawa museum are some of the prominent areas with tourist attraction potentials.

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