Return of British holidaymakers signals strong year for tourism in Tunisia

Sold-out flights have continued to take British tourists to Tunisia.
Thursday 26/04/2018
Happy to be back. British tourists take a selfie after arriving at Tunisia’s Enfidha Airport, last February. (Reuters)
Happy to be back. British tourists take a selfie after arriving at Tunisia’s Enfidha Airport, last February. (Reuters)

TUNIS - Three years after a terror attack killed 30 British tourists in Tunisia’s coastal town of Sousse, British holidaymakers are returning to the city in large numbers, bringing much-needed relief to the country’s tourism sector.

“The British market is a strategic one for Tunisia, and the return of Thomas Cook flights today is a strong message of reassurance,” Neji Ben Othman, director general of the National Tourist Office, told Bloomberg News.

Tour operator Thomas Cook resumed package holidays to Tunisia in February. Its first round of visitors, arriving at Enfidha-Hammamet International Airport on February 13, were welcomed by locals with flowers and festivities.

“It’s amazing to come back to Tunisia with my husband,” one British tourist told Reuters at the time. “I’ll go to Sousse and I’m not afraid.”

Sold-out flights have continued to take British tourists to the North African country and Tunisian officials predicted a good year for the tourism sector as a whole.

“We aim to receive 8 million tourists this year with strong booking rates from European customers and other new customers,” Tunisian Tourism Minister Salma Elloumi Rekik told Reuters in February. “The return of British tourists is a very good signal for us.”

From January 1-April 20, Tunisia received nearly 1.7 million tourists, a 19% increase from the same period last year, the Ministry of Tourism said. In addition to an increase in the number of British tourists — around 70,000 of whom are expected to visit this year, Ben Othman said — Tunisia hopes to see added bookings from across Europe, particularly Germany and France.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on April 25 said the Netherlands would soften its travel restrictions for Tunisia. The announcement came during a meeting between Rutte and Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed in The Hague that focused on bilateral ties, security and Tunisia’s municipal elections.

Apart from the capital Tunis, the towns of Sousse, Hammamet, Nabeul, Monastir, Mahdia, Tabarka and Djerba draw many visitors each year. Resorts in Sousse and Hammamet are especially popular with British holidaymakers, previously seeing an average of approximately 400,000 per year.

That changed in 2015 when terror attacks at Tu­nis’s Bardo National Museum and a resort in Sousse killed dozens of British tourists. The UK gov­ernment advised against all but essential travel to Tunisia. Only 20,000 British travellers arrived in Tunis in 2016 and the number of overall visitors dropped to 5.7 million, down from 7.2 million in 2014.

The United Kingdom lifted its travel warning on most areas of Tunisia last September, citing security improvements by Tunisian authorities and in the tourism industry.

UK Minister of State for Security Ben Wallace, at the end of a 3-day trip to Tunisia in February, said he was satisfied with the country’s enhanced security.

“It has been really impressive what I have seen over the last few days,” he said. “I look forward to the fact there is going to be lots more British people coming in the next few weeks.”