Tourism in the Sudan dates back to pre-independence days and history has it recorded that as early as the 19th century, foreign visitors and explorers had started coming to the Sudan mainly for big game and exploration. The first tourism office opened in 1939 which later developed into the tourism and hotels corporation in the 1970s. The first tourism legislation was enacted in 1977 and was called “Tourism and Hotels Corporation Act (1977)”. This Act has since then been repealed twice and is in the process of being repealed so that it complies with the CPA and the Interim National Constitution.
Tourism development is one of several economic development strategies available to a nation. It is the principle export of one third of all Developing Countries and the major foreign currency earner for 49 of the Least Developed Countries (WTO, 2004). In 1992, the World Tourism Organization (WTO) estimated global expenditure on tourism to be US$ 3,5 trillion, making it the largest industry in the world. In 2001, the industry generated US$142,306 million to developing countries (WTO, 2003). By 2004, the same body reported a total sum of US$ 622 billion in receipts from international travel alone. According to WTO (2004), the industry still is a major global economic activity that has grown by 25% over the last 10 years despite threats from global and regional crisis like the 9 / 11 terrorism attack in New York, the SARS outbreak in south east Asia and the Asian tsunami.
The strongest growth of the tourism industry has been recorded in the developing world with sub-Saharan Africa showing a strong growth rate of 5.5 % compared to a global average of 4% (WTO, 2004). In 2000, tourism in the Sudan contributed just 0.3% to GDP and in 2003, the industry generated US$ 56 million.
Though Sudan’s share of the industry is minimal at the continental level, its growth rate of 6 % over the last 5 years is promising. The only problem is that 25% of the international tourists who visit the country come from the Middle East and most of them are here either on a business trip or on a mission. Traditionally, most of Sudan’s nature and wildlife based tourists come from Europe. In Dinder National Park, Tomor (2006) found that 73% of the annual average 300 foreign ecotourists to the park were Europeans and only 16% were from Asia (Mainly Middle East).
The strength of the appeal of a destination to tourists is linked to the quality of attractions it can offer. It is the attractions at a destination that stimulate an interest in visiting a country. Attractions provide the visitor with the essential motivation to choose a destination and latter assess satisfaction. It is also the attractions that provide the elements used to develop an image of the destination to attract potential tourists.
Sudan is a country for the adventurous tourist who is keen in exploring new frontiers in the areas of wildlife viewing and photography, discovering cultures, scuba diving, desert trekking and antiquities. These forms of tourism have not been fully developed as they lack the support structures to make the product complete for sale in the international market.
There are 26 protected areas (National Parks – 9 and Game Reserves – 17) in the Sudan in which wildlife tourism can be practiced. The most frequented, oldest and accessible during the 22 years of civil strife is the Dinder National Park which hosts an average 300 foreign tourists annually. The park however, like all other protected areas in the country has never had or used a management plan.
Most of Sudan’s 26 protected areas are found in South Sudan covering about 2% of the region. The most notable of these protected areas are Nimule (elephant), Southern (white rhino), Boma (white eared kob), Badingilo (black rhino) and Kidepo. There are no recent data on the status of wildlife in these protected areas because of the just ended war. The only information available comes from earlier censuses conducted in the 1970s and early 1980s.
The wildlife in South Sudan is also well known for aggregating in large numbers of mixed or single species herds or flocks. Nowhere is this aggregation more apparent than it is in the Boma plains where in the 1980s, Watson (1977), reported sighting over 1 million white eared kob (Kobus kob leucotis). In the plain, mixed herds of White eared kob, Mongalla gazelle (Gazella t. albanotota), tiang (Damalicus korrigum) and zebra (Equus burchelli) form especially during the dry season. It is also in South Sudan that all the “Big Five” (Lion Panthera leo), Leopard (Panthera pardus), Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis), Elephant (Loxodanta africana) and Rhino (Ceratotherium semum and Diceros bicornis)) can be found in a single protected area.
Sudan’s archeological areas stretch from Khartoum to Wad Halfa along both banks of the Nile. The closest to Khartoum in the Shendi area are the monuments of Bigrawia, El Mosawarat es Sufra, Naga’a and Wad Ban Naga. Beyond Shendi are Karma, Nuri and Jebel al Barkal. Some of the monuments which were flooded after the construction of the Aswan High Dam in 1964 were relocated to Khartoum and reconstructed in the Natural History Museum where they are currently housed. The paintings collected at the sites are also displayed in the gallery of the museum.
Deserts represent complex tourism attractions, showcasing natural, geological, and archeological features as well as nomadic cultures and traditions. Much of Northern Sudan is desert and ideal for tourists interested in desert trekking. Desert trekking is not well established in the Sudan except for hunting safaris in search of Nubian Ibex (Copra ibex nubiana), Dorcas Gazelle (Gazella dorcas), Oryx (Oryx dammah), Barbary Sheep (Ammotragus lervia) and Bustard.