The bounceback kid

By | Category: Travel destinations

Thomas Cook’s failure has left Tunisian hotels €70 million out of pocket and has hit the destination hard, just as it was starting to significantly bounce-back.

Near the entrance of El Jam one of many heritage sites that attract visitors to Tunisia

Speaking with TravelMole a month ago, Wahida Jaiet, UK director of the Tunisian National Tourist Office, said Tunisia had lost half of its UK business and potentially 30% of its Germany business literally overnight. According to its hotels association, Thomas Cook owed €70 million to around 40 hotels, some of which were exclusive to Cook customers. Will any of that be seen?

In a country where 8% of its GDP is dependent on tourism and 400,000 are in some way dependent upon tourism for the livelihoods, the bounce-back brought them back to the same levels of tourism seen before those terrorist attacks in 2015

Readers will remember that, following terror attacks in Tunis and the beach attack in Sousse, which killed 38 people including 30 TUI customers, the FCO had temporarily banned travel to Tunisia. It wasn’t until last year that UK operators had started to go back.

So very quickly, Tunisia had recovered. TUI and Thomas Cook quickly brought the visitors back.

But Thomas Cook was the dominant force. According to Jaiet, 107,000 of the 180,000 UK visitors to Tunisia this summer were travelling with Thomas Cook. They were so successful in attracting visitors because they operated from regional airports but TUI supports fewer airports, Tunisair only flies from Heathrow and Gatwick on certain days of the week and then only to Tunis not Djerba or Enfidha Hammamet which serves Hammamet and Souse.

Looking from the roof garden in the new Concorde Green Park Palace Hotel in Sousse , one of many new hotels taking advantage of the tourist revival

Immediately after the collapse, Icelolly, the price comparison and deals website saw a 505% increase in people looking at holiday options in Tunisia. Overall, it says, of the increase it saw that day in business, 64% of people went on to book.

On top of that, expansion plans have been announced by TUI, Jet2 and On the Beach as well as easyJet Holidays. But where does Tunisair feature in those expansion plans?

If tour operators and airlines were to read the new report by the Oxford Business Group then they would find items that should encourage them to include Tunisia in their plans. Oxford opens its tourist section with the phrase “Robust recovery” and reports how quickly it encouraged British tourists back once the ban was lifted.

It points out that the government’s own figures may underplay the quick growth that tourism has enjoyed and that it may be $1.1 billion higher, that is if the Federation Tunisienne de l’Hotellerie is to be believed. Visitors from the UK were up 400% but that was from a low base.

In 2018 tourist numbers were about 8.3 million and nine million were forecast for this year. Making that target might now be touch and go but travellers from other nations have not been so affected. French, Algerian, and Russian visitor numbers are substantially up. Chinese visitors are few but they are increasingly being attracted to the desert regions around Gafsa, Kebili and Tozeur areas where few Britons seem to go.

Tunis Carthage Airport The airport needs more direct links from regional airports in the UK

With an open-skies agreement signed between the EU and Tunisia, Oxford points out that when a similar arrangement between the EU and Morocco came into force, overseas visitor numbers to Morocco doubled.

Oxford concludes its outlook for Tunisian tourism by suggesting that there is ample potential for growth. The report was obviously written before the Thomas Cook mess but the company has pointed out how visitors from other parts of the world unaffected by Thomas Cook are travelling in “droves.”

It is just the British end that needs sorting and there are more than enough companies looking to persuade us to continue holidaying there.

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