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[Video] Malaysian-American Woman's Trip to Eritrea




Situational analysis of tourism in Eritrea

By Aman

Eritrea’s tourism scene is a hidden gem in Africa. As a tourism destination, the country offers an array of rich historical, architectural, cultural and natural heritage sites that have rarely been visited by international travelers. Eritrea’s collection of modernist architectural structures have recently been nominated for world heritage status, the country is also endowed with stunning geographical features such as the rugged highland escarpments, pristine beaches scattered across 354 islands and a 1,212 km12 coastline, otherworldly volcanic flows in the Danakil depression and a number of intriguing historical and religious sites.

However tourism in Eritrea is still at a nascent stage of development. Since Eritrea’s independence in 1993, tourism was identified as a key development industry as part of the country’s post-war reconstruction efforts. In 1999 a comprehensive National Tourism Development Plan from 2000-2020 was finalized as a guiding framework for Eritrea’s Ministry of Tourism and Culture to substantially grow the sector, with the aim of reaching 1 million tourist arrivals by 2020. However, the border war between Ethiopia and Eritrea from 1998-2000 and following regional tensions severely hampered the development of a sizable tourism industry.

Since this period tourism has remained a nascent sector in Eritrea’s economy, with tourist receipts estimated at contributing to less than 1% of the national GDP. The United Nations Economic Commission on Africa (UNECA) notes that while Eritrea has significant potential as a tourism destination, the intermittent border tensions with Ethiopia remain a significant threat to the development of the country’s tourism sector.Despite the security risks posed by the border tensions, the vast majority of residents (Massawa 92.9%; Dahlak 95.8%) and visitors (85.9%) sampled in the study noted that there exists a very high level of safety and security for tourists in the country.

Eritrea also shares a number of common constraints in regulatory policy, accessibility, marketing and infrastructural challenges that inhibit the development of the tourism industry in many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. These tourism constraints in Eritrea and the broader Sub-Saharan African region have subsequently resulted in market failures in the tourism sector; with only 8 countries in the region currently benefitting from highly successful tourism industries. Notwithstanding these challenges, a comparative analysis of secondary data demonstrates that Eritrea’s tourism sector is still considered nascent, even when compared to many of its regional counterparts in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Within the context of international tourism trends in the East African region, Eritrea has a very minor share of the regional tourism market. Data obtained from the Ministry of Tourism and Culture shows a 4% average increase from 2011- 2015 in international arrivals to Eritrea, with a historical trend of overseas Eritreans comprising the majority of visitors:

Optimistic Future for Eritrea’s Tourism Development

Although the Eritrean tourism sector is at a very nascent stage of development, the research finds that residents from Massawa and Dahlak are very optimistic in regards to the future of tourism in Eritrea. Statistically, resident respondents in Massawa (96.7%) and Dahlak (100%) supported an increase in tourism in Eritrea. Local stakeholders also strongly encouraged the prioritization of tourism in Eritrea as part of the national development agenda. Within the parameters of the research, these findings demonstrate that tourism in Eritrea is positively viewed as a valuable industry, and its further development would be welcomed by the local population and stakeholders in Massawa and Dahlak.

Concerted efforts to improve global awareness of tourism and travel in Eritrea are also ongoing and principally focused on the Asmara Heritage Project. In partnership with the Government of Eritrea, the Asmara Heritage Project has recently submitted a bid to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) World Heritage Center to register the significant concentration of modernist Architecture in Eritrea’s capital city (Asmara) as a world heritage site. In July 2017, Asmara was recognized as a World Heritage Site from this application. These efforts are also anticipated to increase the visibility and profile of Eritrea as a tourism destination, and facilitate further technical assistance in both heritage conservation and tourism development.

Similar to the significant progress Eritrea demonstrated towards achieving many of its targets under the 2000-2015 MDGs, the Eritrean government has restated its commitment towards meeting the 2015-2030 SDGs for the country. With the inclusion of tourism specific targets in the SDGs, the research also anticipates an increased focus towards creating an enabling environment to optimize the tourism sector in Eritrea as part of the broader global development agenda and national economic framework.

These developments towards heritage promotion and technical cooperation with established international bodies are anticipated to yield positive results for Eritrea’s integration in the global tourism economy. The research finds that such developments are particularly seen as advantageous from the sampled stakeholder interviews, where a number of participants indicated that tourism can be an effective vehicle to not only promote sustainable economic development, but also improve the understanding and perception of Eritrea in the global consciousness.



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