The Tunisian question
DEADLY BLOW: As the North African country reels from Isis’s terror attack, Sarah Marshall reports on how the tourism trade is reacting.
LTHOUGH not until the end of this year, the upcoming release of the latest Star Wars film has already been causing a stir. Tunisia, where four of the early films were shot, was no doubt hoping to piggy back on the renewed interest in George Lucas’ cult epic.
But hopes for a tourism boom are rapidly ebbing away following the recent Isis attack on the Bardo Museum in Tunis. Of the 23 people killed, 19 were tourists, and the episode clearly demonstrated that holidaymakers are now a target for radical groups.
A number of cruise ships call into the Tunisian capital, although many are now rethinking their routes. Both Costa Cruises and MSC, who lost guests in the attack, pulled out immediately. Cruise Critic reports that Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, Star Clippers, AIDA and Holland America have all followed suit. Other companies due to visit Tunisia this year – P&O Cruises, Oceania and Princess Cruises – are all monitoring the situation carefully.
Reports suggest that holidaymakers were slowly regaining confidence in Tunisia following the 2011 overthrow of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali which sparked the Arab Spring. Travel association Abta said figures for the British market were up last year, with 424,000 people visiting.
But the future of tourism could now be in jeopardy. The Foreign Office currently warns of a “high threat from terrorism, including kidnapping” but does not advise against travel to Tunis. Package tour companies Thomson and First Choice, who sell holidays mainly to the coastal areas, have temporarily suspended day tours to the capital.
But while some people will no doubt steer clear of the destination, many staunch supporters have vowed to plough on with holiday plans and are showing their solidarity for Tunisia with social media campaigns. Thousands of people have posted on Instagram and Twitter with the hashtag #JeSuisBardo. Lindsay Lohan is the latest celebrity to join the campaign, declaring “Tunisia we are with you”.
After all, the destination still offers excellent value for money – particularly for families. Adventure tour company Explore (www.explore.co.uk) currently has a guaranteed departure for its new Intergalactic Tunisian Family Adventure, departing October 24 (from £995 with flights), which visits Tunis and some of the locations featured in the Star Wars movies.
Let’s hope the only future battles in store for the troubled North African country are fictional intergalactic ones.
NATURAL WONDER: Most package holiday companies concentrate on Tunisia’s coastal areas but some have suspended day tours to Tunis.