The Warsaw Voice » Society » Monthly - August 28, 2015
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Tunisia: Trying to Woo Back Tourists
Tunisia is trying to woo back visitors, including vacationers from Poland, after its coastal resort of Sousse was hit by a terrorist attack June 26 that dealt a body blow to its tourism industry.

Tunisia was until recently a key destination for Polish vacationers. The number of visitors from Poland peaked at 200,000 in 2008, but then dwindled due to the global economic crisis and Tunisia’s Arab Spring uprising in 2011. Then tourist numbers started climbing again and Tunisia was visited by 107,000 Poles last year. This year, the country was expecting the figure to reach 150,000. The upward trend came to a sudden halt when terrorists struck at the Bardo National Museum in Tunis in March and at a beach in Sousse, south of the capital, in June.

Abdellatif Hamam, the general director of the National Office of Tunisian Tourism (ONTT), admitted in Warsaw in July that the attacks had badly hit inbound tourism. “I understand perfectly that some Poles are afraid to confirm their reservations and travel to Tunisia,” said Hamam. “But I would like to point out that in the world of today, terrorist attacks could happen in many places.”

Tunisian officials say they are working hard to ensure security for all visitors to the country. Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi July 4 declared a state of emergency as security services stepped up vigilance aimed at preventing further attacks. Exceptional measures have been taken to protect airports, museums and tourist areas. Over 1,300 armed security officers are guarding beaches and hotels.

The attacks may have been targeted at foreign tourists, but they have dealt a major blow to over 400,000 Tunisians who work in the country’s tourism sector. What is now vital is for democracy to prevail in Tunisia. Officials from Tunisian tourism organizations said in Warsaw that should that country lose its struggle for democracy, the entire region would plunge into chaos. The terrorist attacks have caused the number of visitors to drop by an estimated 2 million and the losses to Tunisia’s tourism industry totaled 460 million euros in July.

I had firsthand experience of the problems faced by Tunisia’s tourism sector when I took part in a press trip that the National Office of Tunisian Tourism organized in June. The attack in Sousse happened during the trip, but even before that, I could see how the March attack at the Bardo National Museum had discouraged many tourists from coming to Tunisia.

Hotels and restaurants were deserted and crowds were conspicuous by their absence even at the most popular tourist sites like Carthage.

As far as security in Tunisia is concerned, I can only speak for myself. Personally, I never felt in any way threatened while in Tunisia, not even after the Sousse attack. I believe a frenzied terrorist attack like the one on the resort’s beach could not have been foreseen. It could have happened in much better guarded resorts in, for example, Egypt and Israel. But it happened where it did and now Tunisia is bearing the consequences. The number of visitors will plummet and that will have a disastrous effect on the tourism sector, on restaurants and on business more generally. I thus believe that the international community, the media included, should support Tunisia rather than write it off as a tourist destination. After all, New York City, Madrid, London, Paris and Oslo have all suffered terrorist attacks, yet nobody is warning visitors that they should stay away from those cities.