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Diversification is key to Tunisian tourism recovery

Tunisia Visit Tunisia
Tunisia's archeological heritage sites include the 3rd century amphitheatre of El Jem, the largest colosseum in North Africa
  • New-generation resorts should look beyond beach holidays
  • Country could capitalise more on its cultural heritage 
  • Political unrest has prevented Tunisia competing with Egypt or Morocco

Tunisia must diversify its tourism offerings, according to experts, as the country continues to chart a course of recovery from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

The number of foreign visitors to the North African nation in 2022 is forecast to reach over 6 million, as revealed by Lofti Mani, central director of promotion at Tunisia’s National Tourist Office, part of the Ministry of Tourism and Handicrafts.

The figure is slightly higher than the target under the strategy set up for the revival of tourism during 2022-2024.

The strategy aims to reach 50 to 60 percent of the tourism figures recorded in 2019 at the end of 2022; 80 percent in 2023 and a return to normal tourism dynamics in 2024.

However, in order to reach a full recovery, Christopher Lund, executive director and head of hotels Mena region at Colliers, told AGBI that Tunisia must adapt from its decades-long reputation as a beach and summer sun destination.

He said: “Tunisia could benefit from a plan to reposition its touristic destinations which in turn would lead to an opportunity for hotels to improve their occupancy and average rates.

“This would mean looking at new source markets to diversify the inbound tourism mix, as well as attracting new investments to develop new-generation resort complexes, destinations, masterplans and bringing new brands and concepts to the market.”

Tunisia’s main source markets this year were France, Germany, UK, Poland and the Czech Republic. There were also 1.013 million Algerian visitors.

The number of overnight stays is also up to 18.5 million nights until December 10, 36 percent shy of 2019 figures.

Tunisia
Tunisia’s main markets in 2022 were France, Germany, UK, Poland and the Czech Republic

Leila Ben-Gacem, senior consultant at Blue Fish Consulting, said the switch to alternative and experiential tourism is something Tunisia can take advantage of thanks to the country’s rich landscape and cultural heritage.

“From olive farms opening up to tourists to collect olives, to startups designing a tour guide from your smart phone’s app to ceramic workshops for kids – they might be modest investments, but I believe those micro-businesses are the future of Tunisia’s tourism experience,” she said.

Several programmes have been implemented to boost the Tunisian tourism sector, supported by the EU and its Tounes Wijhetouna programme to support diversification of tourism, handicrafts development and heritage enhancement.

Visit Tunisia, a five-year, USAID-funded activity, is designed to grow and diversify Tunisian tourism, generate sustainable jobs and increase tourism revenues. The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit has its Promotion of Sustainable Tourism Programme.

Dr Ross Curran, assistant professor at Edinburgh Business School at Heriot-Watt University Dubai, said Tunisia already benefits from a diverse range of tourism offerings, from the archaeology of Carthage, to globally recognisable film set locations, such as El Jem.

“Building on this, Tunisia could see significant growth through ecological and sustainable tourism development,” he said.

Tunisia is also gaining popularity for its affordable healthcare facilities and high standards of medical services, which makes it a preferred destination for medical tourism, which makes up roughly 5 percent of its offering.

The country was ranked 38th out of 46 global destinations on the Medical Tourism Index 2020-2021 released by the Medical Tourism Association in 2021.

“The government has created a robust ecosystem by improving the medical facilities to increase the foreign tourist inflow in the country,” added Curran.

The Tunisian government’s National Tourism Strategy 2035 aims to make the country a sustainable and competitive tourist destination.

According to the Ministry of Tourism, investment intentions of about $157 million were recorded in the first quarter of 2022.

Nadaa Ghozzi, general manager of Select Travel and Tours in Tunisia, said political unrest for the past 12 years has had a dramatic impact on the country’s economy, which has also led to a reduction in promotion budgets.

She said this must be restored in order to challenge neighbouring destinations.

“Tunisia lacks financial means today to compete with giants such as Turkey, Egypt and Morocco marketing and promotion wise,” she said. 

“My view is that we are stuck in the chicken and egg paradox, where we cannot even feed the chicken in order for it to lay eggs.”

Top 5 tourist attractions in Tunisia

Amphitheatre of El Jem
The impressive ruins of the largest colosseum in North Africa, a huge amphitheatre which could hold up to 35,000 spectators, are found in the small village of El Jem. This 3rd-century monument illustrates the grandeur and extent of Imperial Rome.

Kairouan
Located in the centre of Tunisia in a plain at an almost equal distance from the sea and the mountains, Kairouan is the most ancient Arabo-Muslim base of the Maghreb (670 AD) and one of its principal holy cities. Its rich architectural heritage includes the Great Mosque, with its marble and porphyry columns, and the 9th-century Mosque of the Three Gates.

Star Wars
Although some of the sets created for Star Wars filming in Tunisia have been destroyed by time and the desert environs, many of the structures are still standing and continue to draw visitors who wish to experience the magical atmosphere for themselves. The best-preserved Star Wars sets in Tunisia include Ksour, Matmata, Nefta and Ong Jemal.

Jugurtha’s Table
This spectacular flat-topped mountain of Jugurtha Tableland is an incredible limestone mesa near the town of Kalaat es Senam, which stands almost 1,200 metres above the Ez-Zghalma plain. Legend holds that Masinissa, the first king of Numidia, built the first fortress there around 200 BC.

Chott el Djerid
This large endorheic salt lake in southern Tunisia was used as a filming location for the Star Wars series, among others. It was also described in Jules Verne’s last novel, Invasion of the Sea. According to legend, it was here that the Greek goddess Athena was born.