French travel alert hurts Mauritania economy (non-gay story)

In the Mauritanian province of Adrar, the once-booming tourism industry has come to a halt after the French foreign ministry issued a warning against travelling to the area.

Mauritanian Tourism Minister Bamba Ould Dramane has recently criticised the French government’s reports on security in northern Mauritania, describing them as “unfounded”.

The 2010-2011 reports “are not accurate and are harmful to Mauritania’s economic interests”, he said in a statement aired on a state-run television on January 6th. “They are paralysing tourism in Adrar (the country’s biggest tourist area) and some other provinces.”

Despite its efforts, the Mauritanian government has failed to convince the French foreign ministry to stop warning tourists about visiting the northern areas since the 2007 Aleg terrorist attack, which killed four French tourists.

“In recent years, Mauritania has been affected by instability, and the painful events in Aleg were the start for Europeans’ anger and the classification of Mauritania as part of the red zone,” Marhaba Ould Akhnaver, head of a tourist agency in Adrar, told Al-Akhbar. “We are trying to help change this negative view of Adrar, as there have been no kidnappings in the province which has a tourist culture distinguishing it from other provinces.”

“We are all soldiers and watchful eyes with the national army for the protection of our country,” he added. “Mauritania lives in peace and security, and this red zone that was imposed on us has a political nature and has nothing to do with reality.”

The drop in tourist visitors took a heavy toll on local travel agencies.

Emin Ould Abdala, of tour operator Bon Sauvage, is a graduate of the University of Nouakchott’s English Department. He lost his job after travellers stopped coming to Adrar.

“We don’t understand the classification of Adrar as an insecure area,” he told Magharebia. “Tens of resorts and hotels in Atar, capital of the province, were shut down. Tourist agencies have deteriorated in an unprecedented way, and hundreds of women and men have become unemployed.”

For his part, Nouh Ould Mohamed Mahmoud, an official in the National Tourism Promotion Office, blamed the French ministry for “giving an inaccurate picture of the security situation in the country and Maghreb countries”.

“This causes harms to the region’s economy, is simply untrue, and increases fears of lovers of tourism in Sahel,” he told Magharebia.

“Major security efforts were made in Mauritania, whether on the border or in inland areas, which serves security and stability,” Ould Mohamed Mahmoud said. “The National Tourism Promotion Office is making real efforts to get the real picture of the situation, which will serve tourism in the country in spite of the French foreign ministry’s warnings.”

According to Sahara Media, the French foreign ministry also described Hodh Ech Chargui as a “red zone” for foreigners. The eastern province received one of the world’s worst security indices for tourists and western humanitarian organisations. As a result, the area lost two flights from Paris to Nema International Airport, which carried 600 tourists on board.
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Furthermore, development, health and service projects were brought to a halt. International organisations like Sante Sud, which sponsored development initiatives in Mauritania, received strict instructions from their countries’ embassies to leave the province in 2010.

Losses in the Hodh Ech Chargui province amounted to 500 million ouguiyas, according to the National Tourism Promotion Office. Dozens of hotels were closed and political projects delayed.

“The French warnings have to be reviewed because they are not based on accurate information and because they caused major economic losses,” Radhi Ould Beybi, representative of the National Tourism Promotion Office in Nema, told Magharebia.

The number of visitors coming to Adrar has steadily declined over the past seven years, according to Taqadoumy. More than 10,000 tourists visited the area in 2005, while the number decreased two-fold in 2007-2008 and reached 173 visitors in the 2010-2011 season.

by Raby Ould Idoumou for Magharebia in Nouakchott
Source – Magharebia