People, Travel

Tunisia Tourism Tottering a Year After Beach Attack

Tunisia Tourism Tottering a Year After Beach AttackTunisia Tourism Tottering a Year After Beach Attack

A year after 39 holidaymakers were gunned down on a beach in Sousse, Tunisia’s tourist industry is still struggling to recover from the attack and an earlier raid on a museum in Tunis by the self-styled Islamic State terrorist group.

The Imperial Marhaba Hotel attacked by Saifeddine Rezgui remains closed and other hotels have also shut down as British tour groups, once among the resort’s main visitors, stay away, Skift reported.

Tourism accounts for 8% of Tunisia’s gross domestic product, provides thousands of jobs and is a key source of foreign currency.

Lost revenues—down 35% last year, at $1.5 billion—helped push the dinar currency to historic lows against the dollar and euro this month.

Reviving a tourist industry also hit by the deaths of 21 foreign visitors in another attack by the IS gunmen on Bardo National Museum in the capital may take more than a change of hotel names.

Tourist arrivals fell to 5.5 million last year, the lowest in decades, after several European tour companies and cruise operators suspended operations, and numbers this year are expected to be similar.

In 2014, Tunisia had attracted 760,000 holidaymakers from France, 425,000 Germans and 400,000 Britons, according to Euromonitor International.

Tourism Minister Salma Elloumi Rekik told Reuters she was urging European leaders to support Tunisia by lifting warnings against travel to the North African state. She said initial airline bookings for the summer looked positive.

Since the Bardo and Sousse attacks, Tunisian authorities have stepped up security at major tourism sites and hotels, to try to reassure tourism companies and foreign governments that visitors will be safe.

“There are lots of police around and armed officers in the tourism areas, so it seems very safe,” said one Russian tourist visiting the old market area in the capital.

But shopkeepers in the traditional medina in Tunis and the boardwalk along Sousse’s long stretch of beach where horse-drawn carts used to ferry visitors said they had yet to see any pickup in activity.

“The number of English tourists is down by 98% in Sousse,” said regional tourism representative, Fouad el Ouad.

“Only 9,000 visitors were currently in the resort, which has 90 hotels and 40,000 beds,” he said, compared with around 40,000 in June of previous years.