Full of Eastern promise

North Africa’s tourism industry is about to take off, with a host of new developments and initiatives on the horizon in Morocco, Tunisia and Libya

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By  Cheryl Mandy Published  December 1, 2006

|~||~||~|In 2005, Africa was the best performing region in the world in terms of annual international tourist arrivals growth, and this trend has continued into 2006, according to preliminary data gathered by the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO). North Africa recorded around 9% growth in the first four months of this year, due in particular to Morocco's 17% increase in arrivals. In all African countries there is a concerted drive by governments to share information more readily, improve communications and infrastructure and to stimulate both domestic and international tourism. This commitment came about during the first Africa Regional Conference on Tourism Communications organised by UNWTO in Mali in May. An overview of tourism trends sees a development boom in Morocco, a shift to quality not quantity in Tunisia and a gradual move towards presenting a welcoming face in Libya.||**||MOROCCO|~|Mosque-B.jpg|~||~|From January to September 2006, the number of international tourist arrivals to Morocco was 5.1 million, up 9% compared to the same period last year. Arab national arrivals during that period totalled around 200,000, up 6% compared to the same period in 2005. The government's open-skies agreement with Europe, plus huge investments in infrastructure has contributed to increased confidence in Morocco's position as a tourist destination. More than US $10.5 billion is being invested in the country's tourism industry, of which half is in the hotel sector. Nearly two-thirds of the total 7.63 million room nights from January to June 2006 were in Marrakech and Agadir, with Casablanca being the third most popular city recording 600,000 overnights. Morocco hopes to triple its bed capacity to 230,000 units by 2010 and by 2012, it hopes to welcome in the region of 10 million tourists. Emaar Properties has investments in Morocco to the value of $7 billion, including six real estate projects around the country. Three of these developments are “completely unique”, Emaar claims, stretching from the Atlas Mountains to the Atlantic coast and offering golf and ski communities as well as luxury spas. “Morocco will play an important role in the international expansion of Emaar. With a total of six projects planned, Morocco is one of Emaar's most significant commitments outside of the United Arab Emirates and we will soon be opening our office headquarters in Marrakech as well as offices in Rabat and Tangiers to cement this commitment," says Emaar's Chairman Mr Mohamed Ali Alabbar. Emaar’s Oukaimeden, situated in the mountains, will be “the Middle East and Africa's only golf and ski resort”, the company says, and will combine commercial, office, retail, entertainment and dining amenities, as well as a range of residential options. The development will also include 2000 hotel rooms, retail units, and business and conference facilities. The second development, Saphira at the Rabat Corniche, is set to become the leisure and tourism hub of Rabat City, according to Emaar, providing up-market residential communities, plus hotels and leisure facilities. Stretching along 11km of coastline and comprising nine distinctive districts, Saphira will include boulevards, an electric tram system, cycle-paths, parks and green spaces. Meanwhile, Tinja, the third Emaar development, lies between seafront and indigenous forest about 20 minutes from Tangiers. A total of 670 residential units, commercial zones, more than 600 hotel rooms, leisure clubs and other facilities are planned. Emaar's other developments include the $327 million Amelkis II, a luxury residential golfing development in Marrakech and the $1.2 billion Bahia Bay project, a large scale residential golfing community located midway between Casablanca and Rabat. Emaar is working with joint venture partner the ONA Group, a Moroccan industrial and financial group, on both of these projects. Dubai Holdings is also developing real-estate projects in Morocco, this time worth $12 billion, which will take effect over the next five years. In Casablanca the Dubai Towers project will consist of a hotel and an office tower, and the Marina de Casablanca project plans to feature offices, retail and entertainment facilities, marina hotels and residential apartments. In the hotel sector, Kempinski Hotels is currently developing in Agadir. The Kempinski Hotel Royal Palace will have 236 deluxe rooms, 17 residential apartments and 37 suites and a spa, and is scheduled to open in 2007. The latest addition to the Golden Tulip Hotels group's North African portfolio is its Hotel des Arts, a single five-star hotel complex situated on the Atlantic Coast 20 km from Casablanca in Dar Bouazza. The hotel provides 30 luxury guest rooms, 12 ethnic themed suites as well as 44 fully equipped residential apartments. The group and Le Four á Chaux signed a management agreement in July 2006. Hans Kennedie, president and CEO of Golden Tulip Hospitality Group says: "It is with great enthusiasm that we enter into this agreement. The Golden Tulip Hotel des Arts is a fantastic addition to our existing five hotels in Morocco." ||**||TUNISIA|~|Picture-B.jpg|~||~|Tunisia witnessed a 2.5% growth in tourist arrivals in the first quarter of 2006, which although slow, picked up considerably in later months and it appears to be heading for another record year. According to the Tunisian National Tourism Board, the number of foreign tourist arrivals reached 6.4 million in 2005, and 36.3 million bed nights were recorded. While Tunisia's tourism industry is achieving success it is attempting to break away from its dependence on beach package holidays by diversifying tourism activities and targeting the higher-end market. Recently a number of golf facilities have been developed, in the hopes of attracting more higher-end holidaymakers. An added advantage in this case is that the golfing fraternity has a high season between October and April, at a time when the rest of the tourism industry there is experiencing its low season. Among developments in the country will be Emaar's AED 6.7 billion ($1.88 billion) Marina Al Qussor project on Tunisia's eastern coast. Located in Sousse towards the southern end of the Golfe de Hammamet, this development will have both tourist and residential accommodation, plus a large marina village at its centre. Six hotels, ranging from luxury boutiques to four-star branded properties, will also be located on the beach and marina. Tunisia is also hoping to develop its desert and cultural aspects, and already the health and beauty market has seen steadily rising numbers of tourists, particularly those seeking thalassotherapy treatments and well-off Libyans and Algerians seeking good medical care. To cater to the expected influx of tourists, a new airport is currently being built in Enfidha central Tunisia, which will ease the pressure on the airports at Tunis and Monastir. It is expected to be completed by 2010 and will accomodate around 10 million passengers. Confidence that Tunisia's tourism industry will continue to expand is also felt by Emirates Airlines, which commenced five weekly flights between Dubai and Tunis on October 29. Both direct flights and flights via Tripoli are operated. Emirates is currently recruiting, and hopes to see more than 20 Tunisians employed in the airline's city, airport and cargo offices.||**||LIBYA|~||~||~|Libya is still in the throes of rehabilitating itself as a tourist destination after many long years of being associated more with terror than with tourism. However, recent developments — most notably the thaw in relations with the USA — are steps in the right direction, but the country has a long way to go before it will see tourists flocking. Agreements have been forged with European firms for the construction of tourism complexes on Libya’s coastline. This newcomer to the tourism industry does not yet compete with Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt, however, each of which attracts around six million tourists or more every year. Although data is unreliable, experts estimate that Libya attracts less than half a million tourists annually. Of these, about 12,000 come from Italy according to data from the Libyan Tourism Ministry. Currently hotels in Libya offer just 5000 beds, but the local tourism authorities aim to increase the number of beds to 100,000 by 2015, according to Libyan Tourism Minister, Ammar Eltayif. Security issues, the general lack of acceptance of credit cards and a shortage of five star hotels, even in the capital city Tripoli, have until now, put all but the hardened tourists off visiting Libya, and with its reputation for confusion surrounding the issuing of visitor visas, it seems unlikely that the fortunes of the country’s tourism market will improve in the short term. The visa situation is easing, however, according to a British Airways official in Libya, and it is no longer a requirement for inbound travellers to translate their passport into Arabic, as was the case until recently. However, most nationalities, apart from those coming from Sudan, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria and Egypt, still require a visa to enter Libya. In the UAE, a visa costs AED 250 ($68) and takes 24 hours to process, according to the Libyan Consulate in Dubai. For a business visa, visitors must obtain a letter of invitation from the local/foreign companies based in Libya, however, and while tourist visas can be obtained upon arrival at the airport, a letter of invitation from the travel agency sponsoring the visit is needed. Major hotel companies are now also slowly making in-roads into Libya. The InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), for instance, signed a letter of intent with Magna Holdings Limited in July this year, outlining IHG's interest in developing an InterContinental hotel in Tripoli. Scheduled to open in early 2009, the new InterContinental hotel is to be located in the city centre and will offer 300 guest rooms and 26 serviced apartments. The development will also feature a 28,000m² office tower and a 11,000m² mall. The agreement also allows IHG to operate the landmark Al Waddan Hotel, which is located next to the InterContinental Tripoli site, although this will not take on the IHG brand. Refurbishment is currently underway on the Al Waddan property, and the hotel is due to reopen in early 2007. IHG plans to train Libyan employees at this property in order to establish its hotel management services in Libya in advance of the opening of the new InterContinental hotel. “We are pleased to announce our plans to expand into Libya for the first time,” says Chris Moloney, chief operating officer for IHG in the Middle East and Africa, adding: “We look forward to bringing our InterContinental brand and global hotel management experience to this burgeoning business and leisure destination.” Kempinski Hotels is also looking to make its first move into Libya. According to Ulrich Eckhart, senior vice president, Middle East and Africa, the company is still looking for a property in Libya, although it has no firm plans for a specific location as yet. He adds that the group is also looking to expand its operations in Algiers, Tunis and Marrakech.||**||

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