Algeria: Gourdel's beheading harms Sahara tourism

Mass cancellations feared

29 September, 18:56

    (ANSAmed) - ROME, SEPTEMBER 29 - Years of efforts and hefty investment to launch and consolidate Algerian desert tourism on international markets were swept away in only a few hours by French Alpine guide Herve Goudel's killing by an alleged local Islamic State (IS) affiliate. The incident came as a surprise, in light of the tight control keenly sought by Algerian security forces and army as part of anti-terrorism efforts across the entire country and especially so in the Kabylie. The region has long suffered from social and political problems that over the years have led to the rise of armed Islamic extremist movements, initially linked to Al-Qaeda and now to IS.

    Four years ago Algeria, faced with the kidnapping of tourists (such as in Tamanrasset in 2010), opted to close the Ahaggar natural reserve, which until then had attracted thousands of visitors and was seen as a success of Algiers' bid to attract more foreign tourists. Possibly by coincidence, Gourdel's kidnapping and decapitation occurred almost on the eve of the official beginning of the tourism season for the Algerian Sahara. The season began on Sunday, and tour operators are well aware of how difficult it will be for the damage done to be rectified in the short term. Authorities' statements underscoring that the area has been secured have made little difference. Sahara tour operators are concerned that, over the coming hours, bookings will be cancelled in mass, nullifying much hard work and months of fairs and promotional events. The warnings put out by Western embassies for their citizens to be careful of countries in which Islamic terrorism has been seen also have an effect. Faced with a potentially catastrophic season, the sole hope harbored by hoteliers and Sahara tour operators is that of domestic tourism, still relatively active in the country. But it is not, alas, enough to replace what was lost by the tragedy of Gourdel's death. (ANSAmed).

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