(AFP) – Apr 17, 2009
ANTANANARIVO (AFP) — Madagascar is offering free entry to tourists to bolster an industry devastated by the recent unrest in the Indian Ocean island state, a tourism official told AFP Friday.
"Until December 31, visitors who plan to stay in the country for less than 30 days will not need to buy a visa," Eric Koller, president of the Hotel and Restaurant Federation of Madagascar told AFP.
"The goal is to revive our tourism industry."
The visa used previously cost 60 euros (78 dollars).
The world's fourth-largest island, Madagascar boasts an immense diversity of flora and fauna. Of the 12,000 plant species here, 10,000 are endemic to the island, including seven of the world's nine species of the baobab tree.
Madagascar has been hit hard by a political crisis, in which around 100 people were killed and elected president Marc Ravalomanana forced from office by the army-backed opposition leader Andry Rajoelina.
According to tourism ministry statistics, Madagascar drew 378,000 visitors in 2008, mostly from France, and generated 398 million dollars in income. The sector provides direct employment to about 25,000 people.
In 2007, tourism was the third biggest foreign exchange earner after agriculture and the mining sector.
The instability caused by Rajoelina's opposition movement, which started late last year, and his subsequent internationally-condemned takeover, has driven hotel occupancy down by 70 percent.
The ousted Ravalomanana is currently exiled in Swaziland and claims to be the country's only legitimate president, while Rajoelina remains in charge of a transitional authority and has promised fresh elections in 18 months.
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