Tunisia on the cusp

By | Category: Travel destinations

a popular tourist destination is Sidi Bou Said – now it is fairly empty and the stall holders nearby have dropped in number

The ties between Tunisia and France are strong. French is the second language after Arabic and just about everybody is bilingual. Italian is also widely spoken and when you hear two Tunisians chatting away the three languages become almost integrated as they change, almost without thinking, and use words from all three in the one sentence.

In the areas where British tourists have visited obviously English is widely understood as well so many Tunisians have four languages at their command. Now that Britons are not holidaying, a fifth is becoming noticeable – Russian.

Tunis has always been a cosmopolitan city. Belgians, British, French, Italians and Scandinavians have made their homes there and the language often used to talk to one another is English.

A decade or so ago, English was only taught to students in schools when they were teenagers. Now it is taught when students reach the age of seven. When Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Union, said last week that English was becoming less important in Europe he couldn’t have been thinking about the wider world where English continues to grow in influence.

Today, the biggest investment in Tunisia hasn’t been made by a French or Italian company but by a British one, British Gas. And it was the British who were indirectly responsible for tourism becoming so important. The British flocked in their tens of thousands to places like Sousse, Hammamet, Monastir and Djerba anxious to take advantage of the almost guaranteed fine weather, the beaches and the heritage sites.

one of the new resort complexes. Now it just needs tourists

The developers jumped on the bandwagon and developed resorts along the coastline in anticipation of the ever-growing British love affair with Tunisia. Flights came in from British regional airports and few airports of any size did not have charter flights run by Thomson or Thomas Cook, Airtours or Cosmos. Then came July 2015 and the frenzied attack on tourists.

It changed almost overnight. The British stayed away.

Now Scandinavians and Russians come. Belgians, Germans and the French are returning in increasing numbers but still not enough to fill the void left by the British. You can get a good guide as to who is holidaying by flipping hrough television channels  available in hotels. These days you see fewer English language channels and more Russian ones.

How long can Tunisian hotels, stall holders and tourist linked businesses survive without the Brits if other nations don’t fill the gap? In a few weeks’ time, the state of emergency in the country ends. Will it be renewed or lapse? If it lapses will the travel advice from the British government alter to say that it is safer to travel to Tunisia again? And will that mean the return of British tourists and the growth of the Tunisian tourist industry again.

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