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Massawa and Dahlak Sustainable Tourism Assessment

Pristine Dahlak Kebir beach (Photo Credit: Eric Lafforgue)


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY


By Aman

Tourism is increasingly becoming recognized as one of the key assets that can contribute towards promoting diversified economic growth and poverty alleviation efforts for many developing countries, particularly within the African continent. Eritrea, located in north-east Africa, is a hidden gem in Africa’s tourism scene. As a tourism destination, Eritrea offers an array of rich historical, architectural, cultural and natural heritage sites that have rarely been visited by international travelers. However tourism in Eritrea is still at a nascent stage of development. The recent inscription of Eritrea’s capital city, Asmara, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for the city’s exceptional collection of modernist architecture has brought a renewed interest to exploring heritage and tourism development efforts within the country. Beyond Asmara, Eritrea’s coastal city of Massawa and the 200+ islands that form Dahlak Archipelago are destinations recognized for their significant tourism potential and remarkable fusion of cultural, historical and natural heritage. These two coastal destinations have the capacity to generate economic and social dividends for local communities through sustainable tourism development, and participate as perspective UNESCO World Heritage sites within their own merits.

This assessment evaluates the potential for sustainable tourism development in Eritrea’s coastal Massawa and Dahlak Archipelago as an economic opportunity that can contribute to improved livelihoods, heritage promotion and natural conservation efforts. A total of 472 surveys were administered with local communities from Massawa and Dahlak; more than 200 surveys with local, diaspora and international visitors to these target destinations; and a series of key informant interviews with local and national level tourism stakeholders, to assess the potential for developing both a sustainable and competitive tourism sector.

Annual Tourist Visitors to Eritrea

The assessment finds that the overall potential for Eritrea to develop a sustainable tourism industry in Massawa and the Dahlak Archipelago is substantial. The findings demonstrate that the destinations are not only endowed with significant natural and cultural heritage sites that are rated as high potential tourism assets, but also communities which have responded with a positive inclination towards tourism led economic growth. Resident and local stakeholders identify an increase in the tourism industry with positive gains in employment generation, development of the service sector, infrastructure and improved social welfare benefits. Visitors rank Massawa and the Dahlak Archipelago as high potential destinations that are endowed with attractive natural and cultural assets that are appealing to local and international tourist travel markets. Furthermore, tourism is perceived by local stakeholders as an industry that can positively contribute to improving the understanding and image of Eritrea within the global consciousness. In contrast to a number of travel advisories that recommend limiting travel to Eritrea, the research finds that tourist safety and security within Eritrea and the target destinations of Massawa and the Dahlak Archipelago were highly ranked high by both residents and visitors.

However the research also finds that the development of a sustainable tourism sector in Massawa and the Dahlak Archipelago faces a number of branding, infrastructure and policy oriented challenges. These challenges necessitate a concerted effort from a diverse network of national and international stakeholders to develop an enabling environment that promotes the emergence of a successful and vibrant industry. It is also important that policy makers recognize that tourism is a highly competitive global industry in which a confluence of factors impact the success of a destination, beyond the availability of attractive natural and historical assets. Understanding and implementing necessary reforms, investments and initiatives needed to incentivize the development of sustainable and vibrant tourism sector will be critical to the success of the assessed destinations.

It is critical to note that tourism alone is not an economic panacea that can address all the needs of the communities in the target destinations, and needs to be integrated within a broader economic development framework in Eritrea. Imbalanced efforts to rapidly expand the tourism sector to compete with international tourist hubs will most likely result in negative environmental and social impacts at the expense of local communities. Sustainable tourism in Massawa and Dahlak may need to be nurtured through the implementation of small-medium scale pilot efforts, which can be later expanded on, and an enabling regulatory framework that encourages the development of a more dynamic industry. While tourism development can provide significant economic benefits, proactive planning of policy and regulatory frameworks will be necessary to ensuring the equitable participation of local communities and enhancing the competitiveness of the target destinations.

If carefully and effectively managed, the research concludes that Eritrea’s Massawa and the Dahlak Archipelago demonstrate a significant capacity to develop and market sustainable tourism products that are capable of delivering positive environmental, social and monetary benefits at both the local and national levels.



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