Could Tourism be a Solution for Somalia?

Somali tourism could be an oxymoron. For most, aligning those words together is at best, naïve and at worst, delusional. Somalia’s global image has evolved from one of civil war, tribal conflict and famine to religious extremist militants and perennial refugee status. In fact Somali tourism is so incredulous that as the first tourist in over two decades landed in 2010, he was pleaded to head back home. But the truth is that Somalia and tourism should not exist in a dichotomy. The most important element of the rebuilding and reconciliation process is security as a basic platform for economic and political stability; however, tourism should be part of this agenda.

Somalis continue to hold their clanship as their identity, therefore how is Somalia supposed to re-set and export its image abroad when that very image is fragmented? It is true that political and economic elements of the country have evolved. There is a conscious effort to rebuild and govern now as we see a momentum from the Somali people and diaspora who are coming back, reclaiming their homes, refurbishing them and some even staying. There’s a sense that things are getting better with a cautious optimism centered on the upcoming elections in 2016.

Although tourism is a complex industry that comprises many sectors of the economy with both backward linkages (agricultural, construction, telecommunication, utility companies) and forward linkages (tour operations, entertainment industries, event management, etc) - modern tourism is a dynamic industry that is closely linked to economic development. According to the UNWTO, worldwide tourism provides 200 million jobs, represents 10% of global GDP, and represented $1.4 trillion in global exports in 2013.


Tourism is a principal export for 83% of developing countries comprising the most significant source of foreign exchange after petroleum. Tourism comprises a significant part of the world’s growing service sector; in sub-Saharan Africa, tourism accounts for approximately 55% of sector exports (UNWTO, 2014). Growth in tourism is expected as international tourist arrivals grew by 5% in 2013 to 1.087 billion people with a forecast of 4-5% growth for the subsequent years (UNWTO, 2013).

This growth in tourism positions Somalia, a country with a plethora of beautiful attractions, in a position of strength. Somalia has historical sites, beaches (Red Sea and Indian Ocean), hot springs, waterfalls, mountain ranges and national parks. This presents an opportunity for cultural, eco-friendly, discovery, and beach tourism. The labor intensiveness of tourism creates an appealing aspect that permeates throughout the entire value chain creating a multiplier effect in generating numerous semi-skilled jobs.

Tourism for a purpose

Tourism shouldn’t be observed as just a fancy tool used to lure foreigners to glitzy hotels. It should be explored and utilized as an investment and growth-generating tool, which redistributes wealth, creates jobs, and attracts substantial foreign direct investments (FDI). Similar to many industries, tourism is susceptible to global economic shocks and terrorism; however, the UNWTO has outlined tourism as an essential role in post-crisis recovery from global economic crisis.

Other well-documented negative impacts of tourism such as cultural erosion and environmental impact are a reality; however, it is up to the government to create coordinated policies across the tourism value chain in order to minimize exposure. One doesn’t have to look far to see that the economic benefits outweigh the costs. Staying within the African continent without comparing to the mammoth of tourism, South Africa, the Somali government should look in their back yard and admire the tourism success stories of Tanzania and Kenya. Tanzania which bills itself as the land of Serengeti, Zanzibar, and Kilimanjaro has a two -tier strategy with an emphatic push toward elite tour packages.

This mix of eco, discovery, and beach tourism has attracted incredible FDI and luxury hotel chains such as the Four Seasons Hotels. According to Tanzania Investment Company, the receipts from tourism in 2014 have surpassed the mining sector, which is a diversification coup for the country. Although Kenya has had a challenging couple of years in tourism due to the spate of attacks and violence in Lamu and Mombasa and Nairobi shopping mall massacre - in spite of this - the Kenya Investment Authority reported Kenya’s tourism sector to be worth $1bn a year.

With peak visitors of 1.8 million people in 2011, the international arrivals have dropped 16% by 2013. However, Nairobi’s strategy in targeting the high-end, luxury safari tourist packages have ameliorated in keeping tourism as a lucrative industry aiding in the country’s growth.


Somalia should therefore explore a cohesive tourism strategy to brand the country and encourage foreign and domestic tourism because tourism has proved to contribute both to the current levels of gross domestic product and economic growth of Sub-Saharan countries. It may still be early to view any Somali city as a tourist destination but it’s time to get started on branding Somalia and creating a tourism master plan. Moving in this direction will push the government to combat fiercely and effectively with current violence and terrorists attacks and move the country forward.

By: Sagal B.H. Musa


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