For the last 15 years, the Hombori Mounts have become more and more attractive for tourists, as well as Mali, which has developed into a spectacular successful destination. The area is today a privileged location on the map of the tourist flows of this West African region: in addition to unquestionable ecological qualities pointed out by biologists of the project, the Hombori Mounts are located close to the three main national touristic development spots (Dogon Country, Timbuktu, Djenné). The tarmac road that goes from the mounts to Gao, where more and more charter planes land, increases their potential as a touristic place. Nevertheless, the growing number of tourists visiting the area leads to a controversial debate: should we be delighted at the thought of so many tourists trying to know Hombori better, or would it be wiser to worry about the consequences of such an intensive visiting? Does tourism develop outside the other social activities or does it represent a threat to the customs and should therefore be restricted? If we admit that tourism can stand for an important asset for the people living there, we should also wonder whether this activity is likely to create inequalities and how the productivity gains can be negotiated between all the partners as fairly as possible.
In order to develop a better knowledge of these issues and suggest concerted perspectives of action, the Institute of Geography at the University of Lausanne wishes to collaborate with the Hombori Project on the understanding of the touristic phenomenon as a whole. On the basis of results from the study of tourism in the Dogon Country, the research will develop according to precise methodological principles. First, the geographical studies will aim at defining the context of the tourist activity, with the help of several elements such as the analysis of the physical environment, the statistic data that show the evolution of the situation since the 1980's, and the existing facilities in the region. Second, field surveys will be carried out among the local population in order to go back to the origins of tourism and trace the history of its development. Then, an inventory will be needed to get a better understanding of the local actors who are involved in this activity, what their motivation, their means of action and difficulties are, all this to draw a framework of the main strategies used by the people living in Hombori. After that, surveys among tourists and the tour operators that are present in this region of Mali will make it possible to list the spatial dynamics imported into the area. At this point, the emphasis will be mainly put on the representations linked to the destination and the tours used by the travel agencies. Finally, the confrontation of the local strategies and the dynamics brought by tourists and their agencies should allow us to underline the main imbalances that affect the region and suggest development perspectives that take into account both the potential and the limitations of the Hombori area.
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