On Thursday, March 27, at the Somaliland Imperial Hotel in Hargeisa, Dunira Strategy and local partner Horn Heritage presented the findings and recommendations of their Comic Relief-funded feasibility study. This research sought to explore heritage tourism as a driver of sustainable economic growth in Somaliland. The findings were delivered to the Minister of Sports, Youth and Tourism and his officials, along with experts, technical advisors, national media, and key stakeholders from the tourism sector.
In his opening remarks His Excellency Ali Saeed Raygal said: “We are so happy with the work and collaboration of Dunira Strategy and Horn Heritage and are grateful for their findings and recommendations. I want the whole sector to consider the work and information provided so we can progress tourism in Somaliland.”
Somaliland is a de facto independent country in the Horn of Africa that has exceptionally rich tangible and intangible cultural heritage. Visiting tourists can enjoy some of the oldest rock art in the world, gain exposure to nomadic and pastoralist traditions, visit the Masjid al-Qiblatayn ruins – one of the few ancient mosques featuring two mihrabs – and observe the age-old livestock trading traditions at the Hargeisa camel market. It is no surprise that there was an overwhelmingly positive response from stakeholders in attendance, including local and international tour operators, international tourists, community members and ministerial officials.
Dunira Strategy’s Development Director Georgina Jamieson presented the findings and analysis of the study at the conference. She commented: “It has been remarkable to undertake this study in Somaliland. It is the first of its kind and was exceptionally well received internationally, and most importantly locally. Community members, local tourism organizations and stakeholders as well as the Ministry are all determined to develop this sector. It still remains in its infancy but they plan to now implement our recommendations and grow. The support of international markets is of course key to success.”
Horn Heritage provided local expertise on Somaliland’s history and cultural heritage for this study and was responsible for the collection of data on the ground. Operating since 2011, its Director Sada Mire was instrumental in establishing the Ministry of Tourism and they continue to be motivated by the increasing publicity and positive attention Somaliland receives. Dr Mire observed: “People of Somaliland are very enthusiastic and proud to welcome tourists to their country to enjoy the fruits of home-grown peace and development. The country offers a unique mix of adventure, leisure and recreation. Our study of cultural and heritage tourism with Dunira Strategy demonstrates that this industry, although nascent, has a huge potential for the growth of livelihoods of the local people too.”
Dunira Strategy and Horn Heritage jointly investigated opportunities for national tourism development by seeking the perspectives of all relevant stakeholders. Of the community members surveyed, 70% and 66% respectively felt there was potential to develop cultural tourism and historical/heritage tourism, and a phenomenal 97% of tour operators predicted that the number of tourists visiting the Horn of Africa would grow over the next two years. These facts illustrate very positive results for Somaliland.
One of the tour operators already active in Somaliland is Undiscovered Destinations (www.undiscovered-destinations.com). They believe Somaliland is a destination that attracts intrepid travelers who are eager to journey where very few have travelled before. Founder Jim Louth is optimistic about the potential of Somaliland, and although he realizes there is room for improvement, his company is happy to be offering the destination going forward.
One aspect hindering the growth of tourism is the travel advice for Somaliland from UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and other governments. Whilst there has not been a terrorist incident since 2008 (and it is well-known that the crime rate is extremely low), the current travel advice remains prohibitive. Benjamin Carey, Managing Director of Dunira Strategy and a founding member of the British Government’s Travel Advice Review Group, commented: “It is unfortunate that the Foreign Office and other governments fail to differentiate between Somaliland and the rest of Somalia. Somaliland is a functioning democratic state and tourism represents an outstanding opportunity to promote sustainable economic growth. FCO Travel Advice discourages visitors and investors from considering the country, which prohibits economic growth and is detrimental to legitimate business development.”
The irony is that it is very easy to arrange cheap travel insurance for Somaliland through specialist brokers, such as AAIB (http://www.aaib-insurance.com/high-risk-regions/somalia-insurance), who understand the risks. Two weeks comprehensive travel insurance for Dunira’s recent visit to East Africa cost less than £50 (GBP) per person!
Somalilanders are excited and want to share their country with the world. They are proud and passionate about the majestic traditions and culture of their country. The Horn of Africa is steadily securing its position as a competitive contender on the international tourism map, with numerous international tour operators currently planning on including Somaliland as an offered destination. Dunira Strategy and Horn Heritage are keen to continue their work and are eager to promote Somaliland’s rich heritage.