BY LOLA OKULO
Tuesday, June 12, 2012
SOMALIA could give its Eastern Africa neighbours a run for their money in tourism business if its internal conflict and piracy problems are contained, a UN report on regional sustainable tourism shows. The report by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa titled a study on the challenges and opportunities for tourism development says the country has the largest coastal belt in Africa, architectural heritage and beautiful pristine beaches that are great for tourism.
The report which was compiled last year but released officially last week however notes that war, perceptions of poor governance and islamic fundamentalism and piracy have hampered the development of Somalia as a tourism destination. “Somalia tourism also includes the landmark of Shanghai old city. Presently controlled by the warlords and the wealthy businessmen, the city is known for its scenic beauty and the old architectural heritage,” states the report in part. “Another most sought after sightseeing spot in Somalia tourism is the Sinbusi beach, which is situated about five kilometres away from the city of Merca.”
The report lists some of the key untapped tourism business opportunities like eco-tourism, culture and cruise; expansion of air and water transportation; fairly modern and affordable ICT infrastructure. Relative stability in Somaliland and Puntland have also been listed as major entry areas in the exploitation of Somalia's tourism business. By virtue of offering similar tourist attractions, the report recommends a unified approach to Eastern Africa's tourism development under the umbrella of a regional integration. It further suggests the development of of an Eastern Africa tourism master plan.
Adoption of an open skies policy in which even low budget airlines can easily operate flights within the region's countries and adoption of a single tourist visa have also been proposed to drive growth for the sector. “This (single tourist visa) approach will enable free movement of tourists within the region. This is expected to be beneficial to new destinations in East Africa as they could leverage on the markets of the more mature destinations,” the report says.
Kenya which mostly markets itself as a safari and beach destination has faced fierce competition from its East African neighbours Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda as a result of some cases of insecurity. Tanzania and Uganda were even named as among the top 45 places to visit in the world in 2012 whereas Kenya was missing from the ranking despite having almost similar attractions. The country's war on the al Shabaab which was sparked by tourist kidnap cases at the Coast has freed several towns in Somalia from the terror group's raid with reports of normalcy returning to some parts of Somalia.