TUNISIA: The Pleasures of Discovery (Part 1)

WITH ITS GLISTENING WHITE SANDS, WARM MEDITERRANEAN WATERS SCENTED WITH JASMINE AND SEA BREEZES,TUNISIA HAS FOR LONG BEEN CONSIDERED A PRIME TERRITORY FOR PACKAGED SUN-SAND-AND-SEA HOLIDAYS.

FOLLOWING A COUPLE OF CHALLENGING YEARS, THE COUNTRY IS LOOKING TO DIVERSIFY ITS SELECTION CAPITALISING ON A RENEWED SENSE OF STABILITY.

Combining a variety of landscapes including rolling plains of olive and citrus groves, beaches, and islands of the Mediterranean coast, Tunisia has traditionally attracted tourism with its beach resorts, modern infrastructure and attractive prices.

As outlined in the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report, the tourism sector at the moment accounts for between seven to eight percent of the country’s GDP and is consequently highly prioritised by the government.

After a challenging period, marked by a sharp drop in international arrivals, the tourism industry is slowly beginning to show signs of recovery.

On the basis of data provided by the Tunisian National Tourist Office (TNTO), 2.2 million travellers visited the country during the first half of this year (H1), registering 29 percent growth compared to 2016.

“Tunisia’s tourism industry is getting well from day to day. […] Tunisian authorities are doing their best in maintaining excellent levels of security while tourism professionals are taking good initiatives to improve tourism offers and diversify them,” pinpointed Zied Maghrebi, director, sales and marketing, Mövenpick Resort & Marine Spa Sousse. Further adding to this, Meghrebi revealed that the resort experienced 33 percent growth during H1 compared to the corresponding period in 2016, while 70 percent average occupancy is forecasted for the rest of the summer.

The gentle upward trajectory was also reaffirmed by Christian Tomandl, general manager, Sheraton Tunis Hotel, who explained that despite the obstacles of recent years the address remained loyal to its expansion strategy, keeping renovation plans ongoing with the aim to send a positive sign to its international clientele.

Moreover, according to data released by Tunisair, the destinations flag carrier, passenger traffic in April posted an increase of 29.5 percent compared to the same period in 2016 showing that the country is again rebuilding confidence among the international market.

The continued stability and security improvements, set as priorities by the government, tourism authorities and hoteliers combined with intensive promotional marketing campaigns, began attracting tourists again, laying the foundations for a very positive future.

TAPPING INTO NEW MARKETS

European travellers have historically formed the bulk of visitors to Tunisia, accounting for 72.6 percent of arrivals before 2015, according to TNTO.

This number was almost halved after the two unfortunate events, something which can be partially attributed to the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel warnings.

Highlighting the importance of the British market, Mounira Derbel Ben Cherifa, director, TNTO, highlighted, “We believe that tourism in Tunisia is picking up but it will fully recover with the return of the British.”

Revealing some interesting trends regarding new source markets, Maghrebi pinpointed that the destination is becoming particularly popular with Eastern European travellers especially Russians and Ukrainians, something which might be related to the bouts of instability in their more traditional holiday destinations such as Egypt and Turkey.

According to data released by TNTO, the influx of Russians rose from 46,279 in 2015 to reach 451,432 in 2016, helping to balance out the negative economic impact resulting from the 92.3 percent drop in British tourists between 2015 – 2016.

Moreover Maghrebi high- lighted that travellers from the North African region especially Algeria and Libya have significantly increased this year with the hotel seeing 42 percent growth in this market compared to 2016.

Finally, the industry is looking to continue to appeal locally, encouraging Tunisians from the coast to travel to the interior of the country.

“We are now focussing on the local market by encouraging Tunisians to spend more nights in hotels,” revealed Derbel Ben Cherifa, also explaining that after seeing great potential in internal tourism marketing offerings, TNTO set a goal of developing the domestic segment to reach 40 percent of the total tourism revenue in the medium term.

To achieve this number, tourism authorities and hoteliers started investing heavily in creating alternative tourist housing infrastructure, providing more decent prices.

“We are changing the vision and the perception of Tunisia from an all inclusive beach holiday into a more diversified destination focussed on culture and history and evolving a new type of accommodation such as boutique hotels called Dar [house] by encouraging locals to convert their typical Tunisian houses into bed and breakfast and cottages to offer the genuine Tunisian hospitality,” elaborated Derbel Ben Sherifa.