Though nominally at the centre of Algeria’s tourism policy for decades, specially designated Tourism Investment Zones (Zones d’Expansion Touristique, ZETs) have failed to act as an effective springboard for full-scale take-off of the tourism sector. Amid the government’s current drive to cut waste across the board and develop hospitality infrastructure, the ZETs are receiving renewed attention.
First established in the mid-1960s, the ZETs have seen numerous modifications over the years – often correctives in reaction to encroachment of urban development and misuse of ZET concessions for non-tourism construction. Today they number 205 and comprise 52,200 ha of land specifically earmarked for tourism development. Of these, 160 are in coastal zones – accounting for 78% of the ZETs – while 23 are in the southern desert and 22 in the Hauts Plateaux region. Development of a ZET first requires approval of detailed development plans by the Ministry of National Planning, Tourism and Craft Industry (Ministère de l’Aménagement du Territoire, du Tourisme et de l’Artisanat, MATTA). The National Agency for Tourism Development (Agence Nationale de Développement du Tourisme, ANDT), which manages ZET planning under the MATTA’s authority, currently lists only 21 ZETs that have received approval of their plans, with 13 more under review and the rest in various stages of preparation. Some investors have complained that development has lagged because of administrative delays.
The absence of plans, however, has not prevented construction from starting in some of the zones, which have witnessed illegal development. While some governors have previously justified the construction of apartment buildings or industrial projects as serving “public utility”, the state’s renewed focus on tourism development is bringing new scrutiny to the ZETs and increasing pressure to address both their misuse and vacancy.
The addition of new ZETs has been postponed as authorities instead focus their attention on correcting the use of existing ones. In August 2016 Abdelwahab Nouri, the minister of national planning, tourism and the craft industry, made an inspection visit to the wilaya (province) of Bejaia, where only two of the wilaya’s 14 ZETs hold approved development plans. These ZETs, Aokas and Agrioun, were established in 1988 but only saw their plans approved in 2014. Dissatisfied with the lack of appropriate development, Nouri called for an investigative commission to be dispatched to confer ZET concessions “only to true investors likely to contribute to the wilaya and the national economy.” The minister continued his inspection tour in the neighbouring region of Jijel, where the unsatisfactory situation prompted him to announce that the commission would now be tasked with “cleansing” ZET concessions in all 14 coastal wilayas.
Legitimate touristic development is under way in several of the zones. In Oran regional authorities have sought to accelerate infrastructure development in preparation of hosting the 2021 Mediterranean Games. Among a reported 500 hotel projects planned in Oran, 150 are to be erected in the ZETs of Ain Franine, Andalouses, Madagh and Kristel. Local officials in the wilaya of Tizi Ouzou are also pressing to accelerate development, working with investors to push plans through for ANDT approval. In August 2016 it was reported that four of the region’s eight ZETs had now received the agency’s approval to begin construction. Regional authorities in Adrar and Naama have recently conducted feasibility studies to support proposals for new ZETs. These are among several wilayas – concentrated particularly in the south, where hospitality infrastructure is less extensive and designated ZETs less plentiful – aiming to capitalise on the current abundance of political will to boost tourism investment in their own regions.
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