Tunisia should better publicise its security successes

Sunday 22/05/2016

Tunisia’s tourism was dealt a heavy blow a year ago when armed militants attacked the Bardo National Museum, killing 22 and injuring 51, most of them foreign tourists.

The 2011 revolution, the Bardo attack, the Sousse beach attack in June 2015 — in which 38 were killed and 39 injured — brought Tunisia’s tourism to a virtual standstill.

Terrorism in the Middle East and North Africa is unfortunately nothing new and countries in the region have been victims of it for years. Most countries eventually bounce back, at least sufficiently enough to help save jobs, if they develop a communication strategy that sends a convincing message that their country is safe and their government has a grip on the situ­ation.

“When there is no communica­tion strategy or counter-narrative to the media reports, the safety and normalcy that is the everyday reality in Jordan remains un­known to prospective travellers,” said Malia Asfour, director of the Jordan Tourism Board for North America, who is based in Wash­ington.

“I wish that the regional coun­tries would increase their market­ing and promotion and invite a lot of journalists. The only way to combat misperception from the media is by taking the media to these destinations. We take many journalists and influencers from North America and all over the world every year to Jordan so that the journalists and influencers can experience what the country has to offer.”

Turkey and Israel have been notable in their efforts to promote tourism heavily after terrorist at­tacks, doing everything from tell­ing the public that they have the situation under control and that such incidents are rare to offering dramatic discounts on flights and hotels. The single-minded goal is to draw back tourists.

Aicha Boukari, a veteran Tunisian guide for English- and German-speaking clients has seen requests for her services nearly dry up. “Before the revolution, I was busy with American groups every week. Now, there is nearly nothing,” she said.

Boukari offered three inexpen­sive suggestions that could be put in place quickly.

First, clean the country of trash immediately and use television, radio and social media to commu­nicate the steps Tunisia is taking to make it welcoming to outsiders.

Second, publicise the good news coming out of Tunisia to prevent bad news from dominating the media agenda.

And third, let people know about meetings and conferences taking place in Tunisia — and en­courage such events by subsidis­ing visitor programmes.

Beyond these three sugges­tions, Tunisian authorities should explain the impressive strides they are making in rooting out terrorism. Numerous Tunisian se­curity operations have resulted in dismantling cells and the seizure of weaponry. The competence and effectiveness of Tunisia’s secu­rity forces must be made better known.

Even then, there are no guaran­tees. Despite the well-documented improvement in Tunisia’s security environment, the British Foreign Office has extended its warn­ings about Tunisia and Thomson Holidays UK recently cancelled its Tunisia programmes “until the end of November 2016, pending further reports and updates”.

According to a source at the Brit­ish Embassy in Tunis, the Foreign Office decision was made not at the embassy level, where military advisers concurred that Tunisia was indeed getting a grip on secu­rity and that British citizens could feel welcome and safe again in Tunisia. Rather, the decision was made in London, where people are still skittish due to the relatively recent attacks in Paris and Brus­sels.

Boukari said she is still hopeful. “Yes, I am optimistic if we stand up all together and stop being selfish and think about Tunisia instead of thinking about our­selves,” she said.

One hopes that her words will carry the day.