Tunisia's tourism stays afloat despite attacks

Published April 21st, 2016 - 12:00 GMT
Tunisia is extending its focus to cultural and medical tourism in order to boost visitor numbers. (Pixabay)
Tunisia is extending its focus to cultural and medical tourism in order to boost visitor numbers. (Pixabay)

Tunisia's tourism industry has shown positive signs of recovery despite the deadly attacks last year, Tourism Minsiter Salma Elloumi Rekik told Reuters.

Airline bookings were beginning to recover, with some 5.5 million foreign tourists expected to visit this year.

Tourism revenues slid 35 percent to $1.5B after an attack on the Bardo National Museum in Tunis that left 22 people dead, followed a few months later by an attack on the beach resort of Sousse that killed 38 tourists.  The Islamic State militant group claimed both attacks. 

Many European tour companies and cruise operators suspended operations and more than 100 hotels have closed since the Sousse massacre, and visitor numbers dropped to 5.5 million, the lowest level in decades.

Tunisia has been increasing security at hotels, deploying 1,000 more armed tourism police.  According to Reuters, a state of emergency declared by President Beji Caid Essebsi has been extended, giving the executive and military more emergency powers to tackle militant threats.

There has been an effort to seek new markets such as cultural tourism, desert safaris and cosmetic medical tourism, to counter the fallout from militant attacks, the tourism minister said.

Tourism is a key source of foreign currency and jobs for Tunisians, who overthrew Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in a 2011 uprising.

Salma Elloumi Rekik told Reuters she was appealing to European leaders to support Tunisia's young democracy by lifting warnings against travel to the North African state.

Elloumi Rekik said despite difficulties, which continued at start of this year, there were indications that 2016 visitor figures would remain stable.  Flight reservations were up, some international tour companies were returning to Tunisia and new tourist markets were growing, she said.

Tunisia has relaunched talks to join the Open Sky aviation liberalisation agreement with Europe by 2017, which stumbled after the 2011 revolution over concerns about the competitive impact on Tunisia's national carrier TUNISAIR.  

"Negotiations have reached an important step," she said.

The minister said Tunisia had also started work to facilitate easier visa procedures for several countries, including launching in a few months an electronic visa to help cut down on bureaucracy. 

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