Tu­nisia seeks to keep tourism af­ter mu­seum massacre


Still smart­ing from a ji­hadist attack that killed 21 for­eign tourists last month, Tu­nisia is hop­ing to save the sum­mer sea­son with new se­cu­rity mea­sures and an ad cam­paign tout­ing its safety as a des­ti­na­tion, but in­dus­try lead­ers are glum.

Tourism, which ac­counts for 7.0 per­cent of the coun­try’s econ­omy, was al­ready suf­fer­ing from the fall­out of Tu­nisia’s 2011 revo­lu­tion, when gun­men at­tacked the cap­i­tal’s Bardo Na­tional Mu­seum on March 18, killing tourists from around Europe and fur­ther afield, as well as a po­lice­man.

Rad­houane Ben Salah, pres­i­dent of the Tu­nisian Ho­tel Fed­er­a­tion, said that “it’s dif­fi­cult to be op­ti­mistic for the tourist sea­son, but we will try to save the sit­u­a­tion some­what.

“The most wor­ry­ing thing is the halt to reser­va­tions for the sum­mer,” said Ben Salah, fear­ing a wash-out.

The drop in bookings has been pre­cip­i­tous.

For­mer colo­nial power France is the num­ber one source of Tu­nisia’s vis­i­tors, and its Na­tional Union of Travel Agen­cies says bookings are off by 60 per­cent since the mu­seum attack com­pared with a year ear­lier.

Mo­hamed Ali Toumi, pres­i­dent of the Tu­nisian Fed­er­a­tion of Travel Agen­cies, has stressed that re­as­sur­ing tourists of their safety is key.

And Tourism Min­is­ter Salma Rekik an­nounced last week a raft of mea­sures aimed at pre­vent­ing an­other deadly in­ci­dent.

The coun­try will pump up se­cu­rity at tourist sites and on the routes to them, as well as at air­ports and on all means of trans­porta­tion.

And rid­ing the wave of in­ter­na­tional sol­i­dar­ity af­ter the Bardo slaugh­ter, Tu­nisia is play­ing up its im­age and at­trac­tions for tourists.

The au­thor­i­ties have launched a #TUNISIAILLBETHERE poster cam­paign in ma­jor cities across Europe with the sup­port of a host of celebri­ties.

A web­site shows pho­tos of happy in­di­vid­u­als — men and women, old and young — hold­ing up a sign with that mes­sage in Tu­nisia’s sig­na­ture red and white colors, or al­ter­na­tively in Dutch, French, Ger­man, Ital­ian or Pol­ish.

More cam­paigns are an­tic­i­pated as the sum­mer draws closer.

‘We have a beau­ti­ful coun­try that

de­serves bet­ter than this’

Mean­while, hote­liers and trav­el­ers say deeper prob­lems have been left un­touched for many years.

Even be­fore the Bardo attack, the out­look for 2015 was look­ing dis­mal.

First- quar­ter rev­enues were down 6.8 per­cent on a year ear­lier, as ar­rivals slumped 14.2 per­cent and the num­ber of ho­tel room stays fell 10.7 per­cent.

“We weren’t op­ti­mistic be­fore the Bardo in­ci­dent given that the se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion wasn’t 100 per­cent sta­ble, but on top of that there are prob­lems of clean­li­ness and the debts of tourist en­ti­ties,” said Toumi.

The ho­tel fed­er­a­tion’s Ben Salah said the sec­tor is pay­ing the price for not hav­ing re­vi­talised its im­age from one of al­most solely a sun-and-sea des­ti­na­tion.

“Since the 1990s no po­lit­i­cal will has been shown to di­ver­sify the tourist prod­ucts on of­fer or to im­prove the frag­ile in­fra­struc­ture,” he said.

Tourism in the vast Sa­hara desert has been limited to vis­its to a hand­ful of oases and camel rides over the dunes, while Tu­nisia has failed to feed a grow­ing ap­petite for cul­tural tourism and tha­las­sother­apy spas, said Ben Salah.

Ad­di­tion­ally, ac­cess to ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites rich in Ro­man, Nu­mid­ian and Pu­nic his­tory re­mains re­stricted be­cause of an in­ad­e­quate road net­work, limited trans­porta­tion and a short­age of ho­tels.

Main­te­nance of ex­ist­ing in­fra­struc­ture and waste-dis­posal add to the chal­lenges.

Even the is­land of Djerba, the jewel in the crown of Tu­nisian tourism, made head­lines last year for the garbage left pil­ing on its streets be­cause of the lack of a treat­ment plant.

Jalel Henchiri, head of the re­gion’s ho­tel as­so­ci­a­tion, said the prob­lem was be­ing han­dled and “the sit­u­a­tion will im­prove at the start of the sea­son.”

Toumi is fed up with talk of garbage and mos­qui­toes.

“We must move, change, fi­nance. We have a beau­ti­ful coun­try that de­serves bet­ter than this,” he said.


An English tourist points at a bul­let hole in a case pro­tect­ing a sculp­ture at Tu­nis’ Bardo Mu­seum on Tues­day.

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