Tunisia to reopen borders with eye on expats, tourists

Much will depend however on when travel with Europe, Algeria resumes.
Tuesday 02/06/2020
Passengers at Tunis Carthage airport, last March. (AFP)
Passengers at Tunis Carthage airport, last March. (AFP)

TUNIS - After more than three months of closure, Tunisia will open its sea, land and air borders June 27, authorities announced Monday.

The government, which is bracing for at least a 7% drop in the annual GDP, hopes to rescue its tourism industry and prepare for the return home during the summer of thousands of Tunisian expatriates.

As the coronavirus pandemic seems to be coming under control, the government said also it will allow travel between provinces to resume Thursday. That should help internal tourism, which constitutes about 20% of all tourist activity.

"The National Committee to Combat the COVID-19 decided at its meeting under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh to allow inter-city travel starting June 4 and to re-open land, air and sea borders on June 27," Tunisian news agency TAP reported.

Preparing for the return home during the summer of thousands of Tunisian expatriates, authorities said returnees will be subject to a seven-day mandatory quarantine in a hotel at their own expense and an additional seven day confinement period at home under strict health monitoring, TAP added.

"The ministry of tourism has developed a health protocol specific to the tourism sector to reassure the world that Tunisia is ready to gradually welcome tourists," Minister of Tourism and Handicrafts Mohamed Ali Toumi said.

"Tunisian borders will soon be open to welcome German, European, Algerian and other tourists, said Nabil Bziouech, director general of the Tunisian National Tourist Office (ONTT), last Friday during a webinar organised by the Tunisian-German Chamber of Industry and Commerce (AHK_ on the theme "German tourism in Tunisia: From crisis to recovery."

Much will depend, however, on when European nations reopen their borders to non-EU nations.

Authorities are also hoping that Tunisia's border with Algeria will soon be reopened. Tunisia's North African neighbours made up more than a fourth of the country's nine million tourist arrivals last year.

Tunisia has forecast that its economy will shrink up to 7% this year, the steepest drop since 1956 independence. Particularly at stake is  the country's $1.4 billion tourism revenue and the more than 400,000 jobs it provides.

Also struggling is the national airline carrier, Tunisair, which was already facing a financial crisis before the pandemic. Revenues of the airline company settled at $762,216 billion in the first quarter of 2020, a 28% drop compared to 2019, according to TAP. Activity indicators published by the company on Friday showed a drop in the number of passengers from 781,000 in March 2019 to 548,000 in March 2020. New statistics should show a steeper drop as airline travel screeched to a halt since March.

The Health Ministry announced June 1 that 10 individuals had tested positive for COVID-19 in the past day, including 2 imported cases that had been placed in mandatory quarantine upon entering the country and 8 cases that had previously been diagnosed. This brought the overall number of cases to 1,086, with 48 deaths.