Sudan hopes tourism will spur growth in east

Wed Oct 26, 2011 10:10am EDT
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By Ulf Laessing

SUAKIN, Sudan (Reuters) - Sitting in his empty seafood restaurant in Sudan's historic port of Suakin, Hashem Abdullah is dreaming of better times -- particularly the hope that foreign tourists will one day visit his run-down hometown.

Further down the seafront from his "Mistero Seafood Restaurant," Turkish workers are restoring the ruins of a customs house and other buildings from the Ottoman era.

"We expect tourists will come after this is finished," Abdullah says, eating the latest catch from the Red Sea as he waits for lunchtime customers.

Restoring the old city in Suakin, which has been decaying for decades but was once a major trade hub and port to ship slaves and Muslim pilgrims, is part of government efforts to boost tourism as Sudan struggles with a severe economic crisis.

The Red Sea coast, with its beaches and the biggest port city, Port Sudan, is already a popular destination for Sudanese from the capital and other parts of the vast African country.

But Sudan has had little success in attracting foreign tourists because of tight visa rules, a lack of hotel infrastructure and a severe branding problem after years of armed conflicts in the country. The U.S. government warns U.S. citizens of security risks in traveling to Sudan. Suakin, 60 kilometers (40 miles) south along the Red Sea coast from Port Sudan, is not even considered by most foreign travelers.

"So far, very few tourists come, but we hope this will change," said Nasser el-Din, head of the tourism authority in Red Sea State, estimating the number of foreign tourists arriving in the region during the main winter season at just 3,000-4,000.

"We're restoring a lot...Infrastructure has been built...We have very nice and clean beaches which are among the most beautiful in the world," he said.   Continued...

<p>A man sits under an arch of an old building in Suakin, in the Red Sea state, October 10, 2011. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah</p>