Tourism is increasingly becoming recognized as one of the assets towards promoting diversified economic growth and contributing to poverty alleviation efforts, particularly for developing countries. In 2015 alone, the UNWTO also registered that 1,186 million international tourists generated $1,260 billion in the consumption of entertainment, food and drink, accommodation, shopping and other services. Combined with the travel and transport services utilized by nonresident passengers, tourism exports accounted 1.5 trillion in 2015, approximately $4 billion/day. Tourism also accounted for 1 in 11 jobs worldwide, and is recognized as a leading sector that promotes women and youth employment.

Many of the natural, cultural and historical assets that are unique to a number of developing countries provide a comparative advantage within the global tourism industry, and are clearly a source of potential revenue for emerging economies. This comparative advantage has increasingly become recognized as one of the potential assets for developing countries to diversify and grow their economies, as well as improve the quality of life for the poorest and most vulnerable segments of their communities. In recognition of the industry’s potential to contribute to diversified economic growth, tourism specific targets were formally included in the 2015-2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The United Nations has also designated 2017 as the International Year for Sustainable Tourism for Development.

Despite these significant opportunities in the tourism sector, the use and prioritization of the industry as an asset towards economic development is limited, particularly in Africa. Tourism in Africa is under-performing, with 59% of the countries in the Sub-Saharan Africa region demonstrating market failures in their tourism sectors. As tourism is both dependent and impactful on array of economic sub-sectors, a concerted investment (both regulatory and financial) is necessary to ensure the success of the industry in Sub-Saharan Africa.

However, the economic and social importance of the tourism industry is widely underappreciated. There is a limited understanding and/or prioritization amongst policy makers in the region of the potential for tourism development in their countries, and how to achieve “destination readiness”. Given the multiple challenges and competing priorities in the areas of poverty, health, security and stability, tourism is an industry that faces challenges in convincing policy makers of its value as a tool for broader economic development in the Sub-Saharan Africa region.

Eritrea is amongst the list of countries in Sub-Saharan Africa that have yet to fully develop and optimize their tourism industries, though numerous reports have identified the sector as one of the country’s potential development assets. Eritrea’s rich cultural heritage, varied topography and strategic geographic location along the Red Sea are specifically identified as opportunities for tourism development. Eritrea’s coastal Massawa city and the nearby Dahlak Archipelago are areas endowed with natural deep water ports, early-Islamic history, Ottoman and Egyptian architecture, a medley cultural assets and virgin marine resources spread across 200+ islands, that position these two destinations as key tourism hubs in the country. However, very little research has been conducted to identify the potential of sustainable tourism development as a strategy to contribute to local economic growth and poverty alleviation efforts in these destinations.

This study conducted a community and visitor-based assessment in Massawa and the Dahlak Archipelago to measure the tourism potential of these two destinations, and provide key data towards evaluating the capacity of the industry as an asset that contributes to sustainable development.

Read the full report here:
Peace Through Commerce: Tourism and Development in Eritrea