Sunday, 13 January 2013

Tourism in Mali fades away as instability leads to hardship

Lounging on the soft, weather-beaten cushions inside a pinasse, one of the wooden handbuilt boats with a wicker canopy that sail along the Niger river, the tourist guide Gorel Sidibe looks out at the city of Ségou. "You see this area? It's empty everywhere."

Ségou, capital of the ancient Bambara kingdom, used to be the start of the tourism trail to northern Mali. From here, tourists would sail along the wide river through the arid lands and dunes to Mopti, Gao and the historical region of Timbuktu where Sidibe would take visitors camel trekking in the desert.

Since the coup last March that split the country in two and left the north occupied by al-Qaida-linked rebels, and the kidnapping of a French citizen in November, France has enlarged the "red zone", a no-go area for its citizens that now stretches from Mali's northern borders with Mauritania and Algeria to the north shore of the Niger river in Ségou – almost three-quarters of the country.

Other foreign embassies followed suit and warn against all travel to Mali, leaving the tourism sector – Mali's third biggest revenue generator – "almost dead", according to Ousmane Ag Rhissa, the tourism minister.

In 2011 almost 200,000 tourists visited the country, each spending at least $100 (£62) a day; barely 10,000 visited last year.

"The impact is pretty severe," Rhissa said. "Since there are no more tourists coming, there is no income generation."

To read the rest of this article, please click on this link to the Guardian's website.

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