December 20, 2011

ANALYSIS: Tourism in east Sudan not doing so well


 A general view of old Suakin, in the Red Sea state, October 10, 2011. Source: REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdal. Found at SkyscraperCity. 

Waiting for a better day on the Sudanese riviera

It has a coastline legendary for its diving, nomadic culture and an ancient island port with houses built of coral, but Sudan's Red Sea is proving a hard sell, despite Khartoum's high hopes.

On the corniche in Port Sudan, youths play snooker, smoke water pipes and watch cargo ships unloading in the docks, during a mild evening in early December, peak season for the country's top holiday destination.

There is barely a foreigner in sight.

Diving boats serving the more adventurous holidaymakers are moored in the harbour, waiting to explore the rich marine life, spectacular shipwrecks, or the remains of French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau's bizarre experiment in underwater living.

Lorenzo Orso, who runs the Don Questo diving ship, says he's been losing money ever since 2009, when the global economic crisis hit, and the International Criminal Court charged President Omar al-Bashir with crimes against humanity in Darfur.

"In the last three seasons we're just trying to recover our costs. Sudan has been facing various troubles. After the separation, we also had all the problems in Egypt, so people were afraid to fly through Cairo," he said.

South Sudan seceded from the north in July, taking with it 75 percent of the county's oil production -- exported via pipeline terminals just south of Port Sudan -- and forcing the cash-strapped government to frantically cast around for other sources of income.

The then deputy minister of tourism Ali Mahjub Atta was quoted by state media in September as saying that 550,000 tourists visited Sudan last year, generating total revenues of $616 million.
In the same period, 15 million holidaymakers travelled to Egypt.

Atta forecast that the number of tourists visiting Sudan, along with tourism receipts, would rise by 20 percent in 2011, with the political turmoil in other Arab countries encouraging them to choose "more secure" destinations.

But instead, it is an abject lack of security that comes to the minds of most westerners when they think about Sudan, as Imran, a Sudanese woman running a resort 30 kilometres (18 miles) north of here, admits.

Other factors blocking Sudan's growth as an international holiday destination include the Islamist government's ban on alcohol and US sanctions that prevent the use of Western credit cards -- which Rowida Farouk, assistant manager of the Coral Hotel, Port Sudan's finest, describes as a "disaster." But rich rewards await those determined to visit the Sudanese coast, both above and below the water.

Some 30 kilometres south, past the tents of Beja camel herders, one of Sudan's most distinctive indigenous ethnic groups, lies the mysterious island of Suakin. A gateway for African pilgrims travelling to Mecca down the ages, Suakin was also a thriving trading port during the era of the Ottomans, whose houses were built of coral blocks.

A Turkish company is finally restoring some of the ruined Ottoman buildings, while the village on the mainland, El-Geyf, is a hive of Beja activity, with its bustling market, its sword-clad men and its stray goats roaming the dusty streets.

Louay, the manager of Port Sudan's Palace Hotel, says the state's governor, Mohmed Tahir Eilla, has done a huge amount to open up the region, including lifting the need for a permit to travel outside the city last month.

"Since his appointment in 2006, the governor has changed everything... He's doing his best. But he's tied with a very limited budget," he says.

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For another story about tourism in the east, here's one published a couple of months ago. View the thread for more pictures of the reconstruction of Suakin.

Oh my, we already covered this story in October.

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