Angola - tourist mecca of the future?

Posted On Wednesday, 18 February 2004 02:00 Published by eProp Commercial Property News
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Bullet-scarred buildings, landmine-strewn roads and a wrecked infrastructure still dominate Angola - hardly pulling in tourists.

 

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Yet after almost two years of peace, this shattered southwest African country is taking tentative steps to restore its natural beauty, reviving hopes that visitors may return.

Angola has more pressing problems, such as reintegrating the millions displaced by the war, providing clean water supplies and lifting people out of poverty.

But while the task ahead is huge, the prospects for tourism are promising in a country desperate to shake off its war-torn past.

"Angola has tremendous potential. It's a big challenge but I think we can do it," said Januario Marra, national director of tourism.

"Angola can't just be about oil and diamonds. We need to diversify the economy and tourism can create employment, generate money, improve people's lives".

The government has introduced incentives to invest in the sector.

It plans to build several five-star hotels in Luanda and a couple of three-star establishments in each province within the next six years.

Official figures for tourists entering the country include those on business and in transit.

They paint an overly-rosy picture - leaping to more than 90 000 in 2002 from around 45 000 in 1999.

Most genuine tourists are Angolans, expatriates or visiting foreign businessmen taking time out to explore.

Very few holidaymakers have the patience to put up with the cumbersome visa process or the money to pay for the costly and infrequent flights from abroad.

"We know these are problems and we're working on resolving them," Marra said.

Sudika Santos, born at the start of Angola's 27-year civil war, chose to spend his last holiday at home.

"Because of the war, very few people travelled by car in the last 10 years.

With the end of the conflict, I finally had the chance to see something of my own country," he said.

Santos signed up for a two-week tour in a convoy of 12 four-wheel-drive vehicles, which took him from Luanda through six provinces, to northern Namibia and back.

"The landscape is indescribable, beautiful. All through the trip, we saw mountains, rivers. It was very emotional because we're only used to hearing bad things about Angola," he said.

Nevertheless, one of the war's most deadly legacies still dogged Santos and his fellow travellers.

"We couldn't walk in the bush, we had to stay on the roads because of the danger of landmines," he said.

One favourite spot is the Kissama National Park

9 960 km2 of dense thicket and open grasslands which should be ideal habitat for a wide variety of wildlife.

But with the war and now poaching taking its toll on Angola's wildlife, tourists hoping to take rolls of film will probably leave disappointed.

A night in one of the self-catering bungalows at Kissama will also cost $80 at the weekend, in a country where most people live on less than $1 a day.

Plans for four cross border national parks should help boost biodiversity.

Back in bustling Luanda, there is plenty for history and culture lovers - provided they are rich enough to afford its few decent hotels, guesthouses and restaurants and do not balk at paying $35 for a taxi to the beach.

Beautiful Portuguese architecture has left a lingering image of the centuries of rule by the former colonial power.

But many buildings are now decrepit relics, home to poor families trying to eke out a living.

A more serene side of the capital is the 17th century fort, perched on a hill overlooking the city.

"Twenty years ago this fort seemed like new, now it's in a very bad state," said Ana Bela Primo, Portuguese teacher and sometime tour guide.

"It's possible that it will be brought back to its former glory, if there's the will and the money. And I think you'll need a lot of money," she said, guiding a small group through the cool shade of the acacia-lined courtyard.

The seeds of recovery are just beginning to sprout.

Looking across the bay to the city, lulled by the Atlantic Ocean waves, it is easy to picture the allure of Luanda to honeymooners and cruise ships in years to come.

From a distance, with darkness descending and the city lighting up, the capital's skyline has hints of Marseilles or Monte Carlo.

Come closer, and the stench of the open sewers, shanty towns and rubbish dumps pervades.

Primo is convinced that Angola has what it takes to attract tourists, but knows the industry will not take off overnight.

"Ten years ago, I didn't even think about my kids, but I used to say Angola could be a great country for my grandchildren. Now I already have my first grandchild, and I'm not even sure it will happen in his life time," she said.

"Angola has to be good for its own people before it's ready for tourists".

Last modified on Tuesday, 15 April 2014 13:05

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