Algiers — The security situation in the Sahel region is taking a toll on the economy of southern Algeria, which relies heavily on tourism revenues.
The number of foreign tourists visiting the region fell from around 30,000 in 2007/2008 to just a few hundred over the past two years.
Tourism Minister Mohamed Amine Hadj Said recently sought to reassure visitors by voicing his ministry's commitment "to protecting the safety of tourists in the south of the country, especially during end-of-year holidays, in partnership with the various security services".
This pledge has translated on the ground into the deployment of "special forces in several southern provinces in order to protect the safety of Algerian and foreign tourists who habitually choose to spend the end-of-year holidays in Djanet and Tamanrasset", a security source told El Khabar on December 16th.
Aware of the impact of regional conflicts on foreign tourism, the Algerian government has decided to focus increasingly on domestic tourism.
Several agreements were signed this month between the Algerian National Tourism Office (ONAT) and national companies such as Sonatrach, which plans to send 500 workers to visit the Great South.
Eighty Sonelgaz employees are already booked to spend the New Year in Tamanrasset.
Travel industry professionals have welcomed the initiative. They also praised the decision taken by hoteliers to bring down accommodation prices by 50%.
The south of the country is holding trade fairs during the end-of-year period, such as an El Oued exhibit that opened on December 21st.
To help travel agencies affected by the instability in the region, the government is also seeking to relieve their tax burden. Local operators in the south owe 80 million dinars (746,000 euros).
One of the travel agents suffering this kind of income loss is Hakim Lamdaoui. His company's "turnover fell by 80% over the past three years", he told Magharebia.
After 20 years of specialising in Sahara destinations, Lamdaoui has changed his strategy.
"It was impossible for me to carry on with this activity. I had to rescue the agency, so I had no hesitation in diversifying what I offer to tourists," he said. Now he focuses on the Algerian coast.