- Title: ALGERIA: Oasis town of Timimoun in isolated Algerian desert strives for tourists
- Date: 10th April 2008
- Summary: WOMAN AND TWO CHILDREN LIVING NEAR THE PALACES WALKING NEAR SITE
- Embargoed: 25th April 2008 13:00
- Location: Algeria
- Country: Algeria
- Topics: Travel / Tourism
- Reuters ID: LVA146NIYWTZH0IDOOFAM1X3QUQM
- Story Text: Surrounded by Saharan sand dunes, the remote oasis town of Timimoun in the Algeria desert offers a dazzling experience for tourists, but only few make the cumbersome journey to the isolated area.
Saharan sand dunes stretch to the horizon at this oasis town of red clay where visitors can ride camels with Tuareg nomads and sleep on dunes under the stars.
Timimoun should be easy to get to, but it isn't. The town is located 1,200 km (750 miles) southwest of the capital Algiers, and should be readily accessible by air from Europe but its airport is closed, although quite why local people cannot explain. So visitors fly into Adrar more than 100 km (63 miles) away after changing planes in Algiers.
Timimoun offers few comforts after a long, cumbersome journey.
Local people want more hotels and better transport links, and say Timimoun's isolation reflects a wider failure to promote the cultural and scenic glories of Africa's second largest country.
"There are no tourists here. They are fewer because our airport is closed, the tourists prefer to come by plane, and there are no planes,"
said Safi Abdullah, who runs a handicraft shop in Timimoun.
"Our business depends on tourism," he said.
Those few tourists who make it there are appreciative of the region's "undiscovered" cachet and value its remoteness.
"In my opinion, there are fewer tourists here. I think that there are a lot of tourists in Morocco and we don't see things like that here,"
said tourist Marene Nordal from Norway.
Algeria receives just 1.4 million visitors annually and most of them are Algerians back from France on holiday. Neighbours Tunisia and Morocco each welcome 6 million foreigners a year.
Algeria offers magnificent Roman and Islamic sites -- and excellent beaches -- just an hour's flight from Europe. Yet villages like Timimoun lie undisturbed.
Recent security threats in neighbouring countries caused few jitters among the tourists in Timimoun.
"I didn't want to go to Algiers. I was a little bit afraid because, it's there where we heard about last year's terrorist attacks. But I came here later, and there are no problems at all. Anyway, the terrorist attacks happen everywhere, even if you go to London or to Madrid," Nordal said.
Algeria is far removed from the Mediterranean north where al Qaeda-aligned groups stage sporadic suicide bombings. In February two Austrians were kidnapped by an Algeria-based group of gunmen in neighbouring Tunisia.
The lack of travellers is testimony to Algeria's long neglect of a sector that remains one of world tourism's undiscovered gems.
Algeria toyed with mass tourism in the late 1960s after winning independence from France, but its socialist government soon lost interest as oil revenues grew. Algeria's sub-standard hotels became the butt of travellers' horror stories.
A descent into political strife in the 1990s pushed Algeria further off the beaten track. Now, because oil creates few jobs, the nation of 33 million says it is making a determined push to rescue the sector and raise levels of service.
Algeria does not lack the means. It earns 1.5 billion U.S. dollars a week from oil and gas sales and for years has proclaimed its intention to develop tourist infrastructure.
But nothing much seems to get done, thanks in part to Soviet-style red tape that hinders private enterprise.
"For us, Saharan tourism is an excellent attraction for tourists because it is our main source of income and Timimoun is a tourist city, such as Tamanrasset, and Taghit. People here depend on it for living. For example, one tourist feeds 12 persons," he said.
Djebaili, manager of Gourara Tours, also points to infrastructure and services as a major drawback.
Timimoun plays host to an annual festival to mark the birth of the Prophet Mohammed, when thousands of desert-dwellers draped in colourful robes converge on Timimoun and outlying villages for a week of feasting and revelry.
At this year's event in March, turbaned men shot ceremonial muskets and charged, on camels, in a blur of flapping robes across dunes bearing flags on ornate standards. But only a handful of tourists came to watch the spectacle.
Locals hope that the Algerian government will do its utmost to bring to a tourism boost to remote parts of the country. Some suggested it should change its preferences, and choose tourism over oil.
- Copyright Holder: REUTERS