A Hidden Treasure Trove of Wonders in North Africa

Algeria is a beautiful country located in the North Africa. The country is full of wonders and excitements. In an exclusive interview to TnH magazine, H.E. Mr. Hamza Yahia-Cherif, Ambassador of the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria to India, spoke about the tourism potential of his country and his expectations from India.

Q. Kindly tell us about Algeria and its potential as a tourist destination?

Our country is located in the North Africa. Countries such as Tunisia, Libya, Morocco, Mauritania, Mali and Niger are our neighbours. Algeria is surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea in the North and the Western Saharan territory in the Southwest. Just like India, we also have a very diversified society in terms of culture, heritage, ethnicity, languages etc. Many ethnic groups live together in Algeria. Algerian history is very old. We have been colonized by many cultures at different stages of history. Algeria was the Roman colony for many centuries. In the mid-7th century, our country was conquered by Arab Muslims, and following the conquest, a large number of the indigenous people converted to Islam. Today Islam is the main religion of the country that exists along with many indigenous cultures. Algeria had also been the colony of France from 1830 to 1962. It became Independent on 5th July, 1962 after many years of war.

Our country has huge tourism potential. We have very beautiful and diverse landscapes. Our cities are beautiful. We have desert in one part and sea in the other. Unfortunately we did not realize our tourism potential earlier and relied mostly on our gas and oil industry, but now our government is according high priority to tourism sector. We are in the process diversifying our economy.

We have beautiful weathers and seasons. You can visit Algeria in all four seasons, i.e. Summer, Spring, Winter and Autumn. You can explore our culture, heritage, and the Sahara Desert. You can enjoy snowskiing in the winter, sand-skiing and many other activities throughout the year. We have all possible aspects of tourism. If you go to Tassili n’Ajjer you will find some places where you will feel that you are on the Moon, not on the Earth, after seeing the beautiful sceneries of sunrise and sunset. These places are amongst the most beautiful sceneries in the world.

Q. What steps is your government taking to promote Algeria as a destination in India?

As far as I am concerned, I am trying to generate awareness about Algeria in India. We are inviting people from Bollywood to visit Algeria to see our beautiful sceneries. After their visits, they can plan to shoot their movies at those picturesque landscapes in future. These movies will create awareness about Algeria in India. Our country offers excellent opportunities to investors. We are encouraging private sector to invest in our tourism sector and other areas. We are trying to promote every kind of tourism, domestic as well as foreign tourism. We have invited PVR Cinemas to build multiplexes in Algeria, wherein different movies including Indian movies can be shown. Indian movies are already very popular in Algeria.

Soon I will be meeting government officials, students and people from middle class in different states of India. I will share glimpses of Algeria with them through videos and pictures to create awareness about our country among Indian people so that they can think of visiting Algeria. I hope that very soon Algeria will become a known destination in India. The two countries signed many MoUs in past to promote cultural exchanges, but unfortunately, due to poor follow up, they remain on paper. But now such exchanges are increasing. We are also encouraging people-to-people contact. We are working on a lot of ideas to enhance our bilateral relations.

Q. What are the key international markets for tourism in your country?

Our key international markets are mainly European and neighboring African countries. Our aim is to create awareness about our country in Asia, especially in countries like India. We share many similarities of the past such as colonial history. We also share many modern values.

Q. How is the connectivity between the two countries?

Connectivity is not a problem. Indians can fly to Algeria via Dubai, Doha or Istanbul. Our capital is also connected with many European capitals such London, Paris and Madrid. It takes just about three and half hours to fly to Dubai from Delhi, and about three hours from Mumbai. From there you can go to Algeria in six hours. This is easiest route. We are also thinking of starting direct flights between Algeria and India.

Q. How is the visa process for Indians?

We annually issue 5 to 6 thousands visas to Indians, but a very small number of them travel for tourism purpose, most of them travel for business or work. We want to change this. Our aim is to increase the number of people applying for tourist visa. Our visa process for tourist is very easy. You just need to submit a paper of your hotel booking in Algeria along with your passport. We will process your visa in a day. We are extremely happy to partner with VFS Global on visa processing front. Our association with VFS Global will surely help us positioning Algeria as a tourism destination in India.

Q. What would be your advice for Indian travelers?

I would like to tell them that people-to-people contact between the two countries is must to strengthen our economic and culture relations. So they should visit Algeria in large number to explore our natural and cultural diversity.

Q. How do you see relations between the two countries at present?

The relations between the two countries are excellent. Our foreign ministers met recently in New York on sidelines of the annual United Nations General Assembly session. They discussed issues of common interest. We are further planning to increase political and diplomatic visits between the two countries.

Q. How has been your experience of staying in India?

This is my second term in India. For the first time I was here in 1988. I came to India again at the end of 2000 to prepare for our Head of State’s visit to India as the chief guest at India’s Republic Day celebrations. Our president Mr. Abdelaziz Bouteflika was the first Arab leader to have privilege to be the chief guest at India’s Republic Day celebrations in 2001. As regards what I like in India, I would say its people, culture, diversity, cuisines and many other things. However, traffic is a little bit problem in Delhi. I would say India is the only foreign country in the world where I don’t feel like a foreigner, although Delhi is thousands of kilometers away from Algeria. I am really very happy to stay here. I have visited many cities in India such as Mumbai, Chennai, Lucknow, Chandigarh, Bhopal, Hyderabad and Bengaluru. It is only Goa and Kolkata where I have not been so far.

H. E. Mr. Hamza Yahia-Cherif’s wife, Ms. Yassina Yahia-Cherif’s experience of staying in India is almost similar to her husband. She is enjoying her stay in India and has many friends among high-ranking women. She says, “I like India. It is great country. I am enjoying my stay here. People are good here. I have visited many Indian cities such as Jaipur, Udaipur, Chandigarh, etc. I have many women friends in Delhi, and have attended many women-focused functions here. A creative lady with a flair for art, she learnt paintings in a very short period of time and loves doing painting on crockery. “I love doing painting. It’s easy to learn.” She showed us some of her amazing paintings done on crockery.

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