Tunisia’s tourism struggles after Islamist attacks

Tunisia’s tourism struggles after Islamist attacks

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

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.

At the shuttered hotel, where Rezgui worked his way through the beach to the pool and lobby killing as he went, bullet holes still mark the outer walls.

Reviving a tourist industry here may take more than building repairs and 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.

Regional tourism representative Fouad el Ouad said the country lost more than 98 percent of British tourists after the attacks last year.

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

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

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. The nation’s tourism minister Salma Elloumi Rekik also said she is urging European leaders to support Tunisia by lifting warnings against travel to the North African state.

A Russian tourist in Sousse said he felt safe in the old market area because there were a lot of police presence.

But shopkeepers in the traditional medina in Tunis and the boardwalk along Sousse’s stretch of beach said they had yet to see any pick up in activity.

“I am forced to live in sort of austerity. I stopped consuming many things, just the necessary. The situation is hard for everybody,” said Ali Bagallah, a shop owner.

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