Algeria has become Serbia’s largest economic and commercial partner in Africa
Ever since Serbia was a part of Yugoslavia, relations with Algeria have been a beneficial necessity for both countries. Despite the cultural differences, Serbia and Algeria still have a lot in common. Throughout history, this relationship has been nothing but friendly and everything points to the fact that this will continue to be the case. We talked with H. E. Mr. Fatah Mahraz, the Ambassador of Algeria in Serbia, about the trade between Algeria and Serbia and promoting each other’s tourist potential.
This year, for the first time, your Embassy was invited to send a team from Serbia on a press trip to Algeria. Does this mean that Algeria is interested in promoting tourism with Serbia and highlighting Algeria as an appealing travel destination?
First of all, I would like to thank you and your respected magazine Diplomacy&Commerce for accepting the invitation sent by the Office National du Tourisme et des voyages (ONT) (The National Organization for Tourism and Travel) to visit Algeria as part of EducTours, which was organized on the sidelines of the 22nd International Tourism and Travel Exhibition (SITEV) in Algeria, in September 2023.
SITEV is one of the most important tourist events that take place in Algeria and every year, it gathers national and international tourism workers, organizations and institutions to present their offer and establish business connections. This Exhibition is also on the World Tourism Organization’s agenda.
Your stay in Algeria was actually a trip of familiarization, the opportunity to discover just one small part of its bountiful tourist potential and to be informed about the many business opportunities that this sector offers, thanks to the new legal framework that regulates it.
In recent years, our country has recorded a significant influx of foreign tourists to the Great South. Tassili Cultural Park, for example, is currently a very popular destination. In 1982, it was listed as a World Cultural Heritage Site, and in 1986, it was declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO. In terms of the number of cave engravings, this is the largest site in the world.
I would like to use this opportunity to remind you that your trip, which included three other tourism-related professionals from Serbia, is not the first activity carried out within the framework of cooperation aimed at getting better acquainted with a travel destination such as Algeria.
In the past, our country took part in the Belgrade International Tourism Fair. Our last participation was in February 2023. In addition to visitors flocking to the Algerian booth, the Embassy also coordinated successful meetings of the Algerian delegation with Serbian high-ranking officials and tourism professionals to consider ways to boost the exchange in this sector. Numerous visitors and travel agencies from Serbia showed great interest in Algeria as a new tourist destination.
Algeria is aware that tourism is an important driver of economic growth and therefore in recent years, the country has been working on a strategy to improve the diversification of its economy, promoting this sector and relying on its main assets, which are still intact and preserved natural sites, impressive and undiscovered touristic, historical and cultural potential and modern tourist and hotel infrastructure. The strategy also takes into account environmental protection.
The trade balance currently shows a large surplus on the Serbian side
Apart from tourism development, are the two countries cooperating in other areas too? What is the trade between Algeria and Serbia like? The Serbian agricultural industry is interested in marketing its products in the Algerian market. Is your market open to Serbian companies and what are the products that could be marketed in the near future?
Allow me to briefly explain the quality of the historical relations between our two countries, which are characterized by friendship and solidarity between our two peoples and which began even before my country declared independence, at a time when the former Yugoslavia and its peoples provided valuable and diverse assistance to our national liberation struggle. In 1959, the former Yugoslavia was the first European country to recognize the Provisional Government of Algeria. Since then, this friendship and solidarity have grown stronger, which enabled the launch of multidisciplinary cooperation, which was useful in the work that my country invested in reconstruction and development after restoring independence.
Many Serbian companies actively participated in this reconstruction. They still operate in my country, where they work on many projects within the economic, industrial and trade partnerships in various fields, such as hydraulics, water management, construction and electric power, to name only the most important ones.
Since then, Algeria has become Serbia’s largest Arab and African economic and commercial partner, with an enviable volume of trade that is constantly growing. The trade balance currently shows a large surplus on the Serbian side. This trade mainly consists of agricultural and food products. The great potential of the economies of our two countries has not been fully utilized as yet. Our two countries are working to create prerequisites for increasing mutual trade, especially through updating bilateral agreements.
In order for this situation to improve, we had several high-level bilateral meetings this year. At the meeting of the two foreign ministers, Mr. Ivica Dačić and Mr. Ahmed Attaf respectively, in June in Belgrade, a road map for the revival and expansion of the exchange was established. Both short- and medium-term political meetings are planned at a very high level, as well as economic ones, to introduce a new dynamic into the development of economic, scientific and technical cooperation.
As far as the agricultural sector is concerned, Serbia really has indisputable knowledge that Algeria, which has been implementing major agricultural development projects in recent years, is interested in. Serbia’s expertise, especially in research and development, could positively contribute to the Algerian agricultural sector with new processes and technologies, which would improve the quality of certain products, especially seeds.
How much will a direct flight contribute to the development of economic exchange and increase in tourist visits?
Clearly, a great advantage lies in the fact that a tourist destination is accessible by air. The symbiosis between air transport and tourism really exists. The advantages of air transport are also essential for the development of economic and trade exchange. Therefore, the re-establishment of direct Algiers-Belgrade flights would certainly boost the number of tourist visits on both sides and facilitate business opportunities between the two countries. Thanks to direct flights, citizens of both countries will save both time and money.
Talks between the experts of the two countries should begin soon to implement this project, which would indirectly contribute to boosting Belgrade’s role as a regional air hub.
Are Serbian travel agencies interested in organizing trips to Algeria? What are the best reasons to visit Algeria?
It would take me dozens of interviews to list the many tourist aspects of Algeria. So I will mention only some of them. First of all, Algeria is the largest country in the Mediterranean basin, Africa and the Arab world. It contains prehistoric archaeological sites, such as the cave paintings of Tassili, the largest open-air museum in the world.
Algeria enjoys a mild Mediterranean climate, but the geographical and climatic contrasts are so impressive that there are periods when tourists, especially fans of fishing or nautical sports, can go from the beach to the Chréa or Tikjda ski resorts on the same day, whose snowy peaks are about 40km from the coast.
The re-establishment of the direct Algiers-Belgrade flights would certainly boost the number of tourist visits on both sides and facilitate business opportunities
Located at the crossroads of several civilizations (Roman, Byzantine, Muslim, Ottoman), Algeria is not only a valued tourist destination thanks to its wonderful landscapes but also for its rich cultural and historical heritage. Numerous archaeological and cultural sites have been included in the UNESCO World Heritage List, such as Timgad, Djemila, Tipaza, Casbah and the M’Zab valley with its oases and ksours, desert castles of unusual ancient architecture. Algeria also has numerous and unique sites that are impossible to enumerate in this short interview.
How would you describe Serbia to Algerians? What is it you like the most here and what would you recommend to your compatriots?
I would tell them that Serbia is at the crossroads of several civilizations, primarily Eastern and Western, that Serbia has countless historical and religious monuments that testify to the richness of its centuries-old history and that it is endowed with exceptional natural beauty.
Last but not least, I would like to tell them, especially young tourists, that its big cities are known for their abundant and varied cultural and artistic content and that all Serbs, whether they live in cities or the countryside, are hospitable and open.