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Tunisia Tourism Booms as Terrorism Fears Abate

Tunisia Tourism Booms as Terrorism Fears Abate

Wednesday, 21 February, 2018 - 11:15
Tourists shopping at the old medina in Sousse, Tunisia. (Reuters)

Tourism in Tunisia hit record highs in 2018, reversing damage incurred by the sector in wake of 2015 terrorist attacks.

“We aim to receive 8 million tourists this year with strong booking rates from European customers and other new customers,” Tourism Minister Salma Loumi said on Wednesday.

“The return of British tourists is a very good signal for us.”

After three years of shunning Tunisia in the wake of a gun attack on a beach in Sousse that killed 39 tourists and one at the Bardo National Museum in Tunis that killed 21, major European tour operators have started to return.

Last week, Thomas Cook flew British tourists to Tunisia for the first time since an extremist killed 30 Britons in Sousse. TUI said last month it too planned to offer holidays in Tunisia again, starting in May.

The 8 million forecast brings tourist numbers above the pre-attack level of 7.1 million in 2014. Arrivals fell to 5.3 million in 2015. Loumi said tourism revenues would be up 25 percent on last year when they reached 2.8 billion dinar ($1.2 billion).

Tourist numbers in 2017 were already up 23 percent on the previous year to 7 million, as hotels filled beds with Russian and Algerian visitors, but operators say they spend less than European holidaymakers.

Tourism accounts for 8 percent of Tunisia’s gross domestic product. A return of European visitors would give a strong boost to the struggling economy and raise the country’s weak foreign currency reserves.

Earlier this month, Britain's security minister, Ben Wallace, praised efforts by Tunisia to boost security.

"It's been really impressive what I've seen over the last few days," Wallace told reporters in Tunis. "I look forward to the fact there's gonna be lots more British people coming in the next few weeks."

Wallace had paid a visit to Tunisia for talks with officials on the security situation.

The 2015 attacks prompted London to impose a warning against "all but essential travel" to Tunisia.

Last July, Britain lifted the travel warning for virtually all of Tunisia's Mediterranean coastline following "security improvements" in the North African country.

However, it continues to advise against travel to southern Tunisia, along the border with Libya, and advises against all but essential travel along the western border with Algeria.

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