Signs of recovery of high tourist season in Tunisia

The number of tourists that chose Tunisia as a destination has reached 1 million 235 tourists by end of March. according to Tunisian Tourism Minister Selma Elloumi Rekik.

Tourist entries have increased by 33.5% compared to the same period in 2016, including a 60% increase for the traditional markets (France, Germany, Algeria), the minister said .

Prime Minister Youssef Chahed foresaw, in an interview broadcasted on Sunday, that the number of tourists will reach 6.5 million by end of 2017, i.e. a 30% increase compared to 2016.

Several professionals are optimistic regarding the recovery of the Tunisian tourism sector during the 2017 summer season. President of the Tunisian Hotels Federation (FTH) Khaled Fakhfekh stressed on the importance of local tourism recalling that between 2015 and 2016 Tunisians have spent 5 million nights in hotel units.

Tunisia, which mainly relied on Maghreb and Eastern European markets (Russia), appears once again in the brochures of the tour operators of Western Europe (France, Germany, Belgium).

As for President of the Tunisian Tourism Observatory (OTT) and organiser of the “Tourism Exhibitions” Afif Kchouk prefers to remain careful even though there is tendency to optimism with all the good indicators in the summer of 2017.

Cautious pessimism

“We must be optimistic yet careful even though forecasts for the 2017 summer season are good for the traditional markets (mainly Tunisian and Algerian markets) especially as Tunisia’s image, that has improved on certain aspects, is still weak. Long term visibility is not clear,” he told TAP adding that “it is imperative to work on the image of the destination. Our country is basically seaside; this activity represents the main engine of Tunisian tourism, if its works all other tourism products will also work.”

The recovery mainly counts on the quality of products in hotels (infrastructure, food, reception, cleanliness …).

Regarding the Maghreb market, reception and transit conditions of Algerian and Libyan tourists at the level of Tunisian border crossings were at heart of meetings between Tourism and Handicraft Minister Selma Elloumi Rekik and officials of the National Border Crossings Office.

Elloumi affirmed that “the State is working on ensuring the best reception and passage conditions of these tourists and speeding up landscaping and renovations works of resting areas by providing the necessary commodities especially at the level of currency exchange and insurances offices.

Tunisian tourism requires more than contingency measures

For several tourism experts, structural issues of the tourism sector in Tunisia should be solved and no longer be satisfied just by contingency practices and measures as the sector still suffers from problems such as the quality of hotel services, the lack of flexibility of the national carrier Tunisiar, the poor passage conditions in Tunisia at the level of several border crossings and the unprofessional treatment of certain Tunisian hotels towards Maghreb clients (overbooking, dislodgment and poor quality of services…).

Tourism and hotel expert Mounir Ben Miled criticised, for his part, the poor quality of hotel offer and services, the lack at the level of training which is less consistent with the sector’s needs, the heavy debt of a large number of operators that halts the upgrading and renewal of hotel units, lack of co-ordination of decision-makers (ministries, OPAT…) and the lack of innovation in marketing approaches.

According to him, it is important to promote a new image of Tunisia among source markets, an image of a safe country for tourists, implement an important action at the level of environment and health respect, strengthen control, develop new promotion methods to meet the needs of each market, invite, as necessary, famous media, art and culture personalities

As for International Tourism Counsellor and Expert Zouhaier Ben Jemaa, seaside tourism should remain and be upgraded and other forms of tourism should emerge.

“Beautiful tours inspired by our 3,000-year history should be scheduled, the cuisine should be better exploited, and international events should be held to improve the low and average seasons: gulf, shows, sport, conferences! Training should be reconsidered as soon as possible! A vast undertaking should be considered,” he recommended arguing that the Maghreb market should also be considered and products should be better adopted, local tourism must double in volume.

A governmental action plan to support the sector till 2020 should result from the first meetings held on March 22-May 22, 2016.

Tunisia — that invested in tourism since more than five decades — relied, for a long period, on mass tourism especially seaside tourism. Today, this system tends to falter and must follow trends coming from experts and professionals recommending diversity of tourism offer and promotion of niche tourism such as bio, medical, cultural and other tourisms.