Interview with the international tourism expert Said Boukhelifa

The International Tourism Expert, Operator and Researcher 1975-2021, Mr. Said Boukhelifa, returns in this interview he gave to Algeria-Eco on the situation of the tourism sector in Algeria hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic (Covid-19). According to him, more than a thousand travel agencies closed in 2020, and another thousand will follow by the summer. As for hotel establishments, the Expert estimates their losses at 500 billion centimes, while 50,000 workers in the sector find themselves unemployed. Mr. Boukhelifa also informs us that no financial assistance measures have been taken to support the tourism sector severely affected by the health crisis.

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Algeria-Eco: Already moribund for several decades, the tourism sector in Algeria has been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic. Can we have an idea of ​​the extent of the damage?

Mr. Said Boukhelifa: Indeed, it is a moribund sector for more than thirty years. The global pandemic has caused significant economic and financial damage, fatal for some companies in the world of travel and air transport. The UNWTO (World Tourism Organization) has declared the following staggering figures: 1000 billion dollars of loss for the year 2020, with as a corollary, less than a billion tourists. In 2019, there were 1 billion 400 million registered tourists. The IATA, the international civil aviation organization, for its part, puts forward the following figure: 119 billion dollars in losses for the 290 airlines that are affiliated to it. For our national flag, AH (Air Algeria, editor’s note), its losses were estimated at 45 billion dinars according to the Minister of Transport last January. In terms of tourism, in 2020, more than a thousand travel agencies closed, another thousand will follow by the summer which will be another failed season. There will remain 2000 vacillating and weakened out of a total of 4000 branches. As for hoteliers, the disaster is greater, because the best annual room occupancy rate was 20% for hotels classified 3 * 4 * and 5 *, in 2020. The majority did not exceed 10%. While it would take a rate of 40% to ensure a balance of charges. And 60% to talk about profits. The financial abyss is especially affected by the new hotels opened in 2019 and 2020, indebted to banks. In particular in Oran, capital of the West which did not have any hotel with international standards in 2000. Even the Royal was in complete decay, unworthy of a 5 *, but nowadays being in partnership with the world group ACCOR, under the Royal M Gallery label, it competes with the Sofitel Garden Hamma Alger. The two best 5 * in this category. Oran, which in 2021 has overcapacity for bedding in the 3 * 4 * and 5 * categories, around sixty modern and comfortable hotels. In the absence of untraceable official statistics, we can advance the figure of 500 billion cents of losses in the hotel industry. With the consequence, 50,000 unemployed, including those of travel agencies and large restaurants

The closure of the country’s borders for a year now, due to the health crisis, has had a strong impact on players in the tourism sector, particularly travel agencies. What is their situation like?

Travel agencies missed the 4 tourist seasons, spring, summer and winter 2020, plus spring 2021. The year 2020 saw nearly 3,000 domestic tourists who passed through travel agencies. And no more than 10,000 will travel through their intermediaries this year 2021; Mainly towards the South and the Great South. Winter spring. Very meager numbers. So travel agencies are devastated and precarious. Because if the ministry of tourism evokes each year, the development of the domestic tourism it does it since May 1981, almost 40 years and it remained at the stage of the pious wishes. The state has not set up or encouraged private investors to do so, adequate accommodation, campgrounds with international standards, outdoor vacation centers, hostels, chalets, 1 * hotels. and 2 *. A single 3 * hotel was added, the Bougaroun in Collo, in 1983. Then nothing. This means that our country, in 2021, is in bed under-capacity, for seaside tourism, less than 60,000 beds, camping included, for Saharan tourism less 10,000 beds, and for mountain tourism less than 2,000 beds. In summer, there are three million nationals who aspire to spend a seaside holiday in good conditions, 300,000 aspire to go to the South in winter and in spring, 200,000 for the same period aspire to go to the mountains. The weakness of reception capacities frustrates them.

Does not maintaining the closure of the country’s borders for an indefinite period of time risk giving the final blow to travel agencies that depend on outbound tourism, knowing that domestic and receptive tourism is not developed in Algeria? ?

Exactly, the closure of the borders which has continued since March 2020, will bring the shock to the agencies, because most of their very significant turnover in normal periods is achieved by air transport, 70%, sales of dry tickets or in within the framework of complete packages abroad, Umrah / Hadj, Turkey, Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, Asia, Canada, America… These agencies could not also make reception of foreign tourists, non-existent for about thirty years, period 1990 -2020, less than 60,000 were received within the framework of the tour-operating / travel organization / via the tour-operators during this long period, that is to say an annual average of 2000 visitors maximum. While the tourism ministry announced year after year, between 1,500,000 and 2,700,000 tourists, unreliable and oversized figures, which do not at all reflect the reality on the ground. Because who are the Algerians who have seen buses full of foreign tourists circulating in Algiers, Oran, Constantine, in Kabylia or in the Oases? No one saw them across the 48 Wilayas. These official figures are statistics collected from the PAF services of the DGSN which are in fact only border entries which include 70% of nationals residing abroad on annual family visits, especially during the summer holidays. By adding the entries of Turks, Chinese, Syrians, sub-Saharans… The reliable Canadian statistical approach is based on arrivals at hotels and not at borders.

What about the measures taken by the public authorities to support the sector?

No financial assistance measures have been taken by the tourism sector, because it itself is a “broke”, it has been part of the three lowest budgets of the government for a very long time. An insignificant, even ridiculous budget. That of veterans is 74 times higher! So despite letters from FNAT and SNAV, corporate associations of agencies sent to the Ministry of Tourism in summer 2020, the latter exploited them by himself summarizing the grievances of the affected agencies, had transmitted to the finance ministers “taxes and taxes, low bank rates ”and the labor rate“ CNAS and CASNOS ”. No favorable response, no government solidarity. The two ministries seized and concerned acted as if nothing was there. Taxes were rife, CNAS and CASNOS claimed their due as in normal times, from agencies lacking in activity and in distress. A sector and operators despised.

Has the reduction in containment measures relieved the players in the tourism sector?

No, the derisory and finicky lightening of the conditions of confinement, has only satisfied the restaurateurs and cafetiers. Tourist activity is still shaken. The borders, still closed until the summer and beyond, augur dark and even fatal days for agencies. Some hotels breathe better, and those at the seaside resort work better in summer. If the sanitary conditions do not worsen. The situation remains terrible for the entire sector.

Faced with the situation in the tourism sector, what do you recommend to remedy it?

What should we recommend to remedy this grim health period which has been added to the situation of a sector on a drip for a very long time. First and foremost, at the top of the State, we should realize that it is time, that a real political will, awaited for years, is born with a lot of conviction and knowledge – to do. For too long, tourism has been neglected, orphaned by public authorities, for lack of a tourist culture at the top, of a strategic vision. As a result, we are shamefully the last out of 22 countries in the Mediterranean. While the sky and nature have shaped us as one of the five most important countries in the region in terms of tourism potential.

To do this, it would be necessary to use the Master Plan for Tourism Development, the SDAT, a true 200-page reference framework, which outlined a formidable harmonious development plan, 2008-2030. It has been impatiently awaited for a quarter of a century. He had brought hope back with him. Alas, this colossal work carried out under the direction of Cherif Rahmani, was neglected and ignored, especially after his departure. This is due, by conservative ideology and above all, because of our oil, this black gold, which was the black curse of tourism. The oil boom of the years 2008-2013, postponed to Greek calendars the great reconstruction project of the destination which had its beautiful sunny years, the seventies, 70-80, a wonderful period that I experienced personally as an operator and witness. . We were boosted by factual, not textual, political will.

In 2007, when the SDAT was completed, its slogan was: “Tourism is no longer a choice, but an imperative, a priority. Tourism will constitute an alternative resource to exhaustible hydrocarbons during this century ”; It has been 13 years already, that time wasted. The big decision makers seem to ignore that a destination is built or rebuilt over a period of twenty years, the time of a generation. Step by step. Tourist education, in schools, tourist associations to encourage and support, gradual change of mentalities resistant to tourism, establishment of a tourist culture crescendo the time it takes, all-round quality training, bringing tourism into the universities, organize seminars on the contribution of tourism for the benefit of walis, heads of daïras, presidents of municipalities. Because tourism is essentially territorial. Tourism must be territorialized, it must be decentralized to tourist areas. He must leave his ivory tower in Algiers. Local operators are better suited to take care of it properly. They are men on the ground, not office men from the capital, too far removed from the territorial reality. In fine, in this SDAT, there is practically everything, but taking into account the delay some numerical readjustments are necessary, not more. This SDAT unfortunately does not have the proven skills to bring it to fruition. They must be sought, found, here and elsewhere in the diaspora. Conviction extra.

MDI Algiers

Janelle B. Smith

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