Tunisia expects to attract 5.5 million foreign tourists this year, about the same as last year, after increasing security at hotels and focusing on new markets to counter the fallout from militant attacks, the tourism minister said.
Salma Elloumi Rekik said she was urging European leaders to support Tunisia’s young democracy by lifting warnings against travel to the North African state issued after a gunman attacked a Tunisian resort hotel last June. She said there were positive signs that airline bookings were beginning to recover, and Tunisia was hoping to lure additional travellers with new holiday tours such as desert safaris and cosmetic medical tourism.
Tourism accounts for 8% of gross domestic product (GDP) in Tunisia and is a key source of foreign currency and jobs for Tunisians. Last year tourist arrivals fell to 5.5 million, the lowest level in decades, after several European tour companies and cruise operators suspended operations in the wake of the Sousse attack. Tourism revenues fell 35% to $1.5 billion.
Elloumi Rekik said despite difficulties, which continued at start of this year, there were indications that 2016 visitor figures would be not lower than last year. Flight reservations were up, some international tour companies were coming back to Tunisia and new tourist markets were growing, she said.
Elloumi Rekik said Tunisia is diversifying by promoting cultural tourism, Sahara safari trips and medical tourism packages, giving European patients access to less costly therapeutic and cosmetic treatments in Tunisia. She said the government also expects Tunisia will enter an Open Sky aviation liberalisation agreement with Europe by the end of 2016 or by January 2017 at the latest, which would help bring more travellers and tourists to Tunisia from next year.
The minister said Tunisia had also started work to facilitate easier visa procedures for several countries, including launching in a few months an electronic visa to help cut down on bureaucracy.