Tourism industry fallout from Tunisia attack anxiously awaited

The fragile recovery of North African tourism is facing a potentially devastating blow amid booking cancellations following last Friday’s massacre at a Tunisian beach resort. Now analysts are questioning whether the tourism fallout is likely to be contained in the country or if Morocco and Egypt may also affected.

North African resorts had been enjoying a revival over the past two years as tourists returned following years of political upheaval in the wake of the Arab Spring. “The attacks are potentially damaging to North Africa tourism, with a concern for Morocco and Egypt, which had its own ongoing unrest but nothing compared to the Tunisian situation,” said Matthew Green, the head of research and consultancy at CBRE in Dubai.

“The Tunisian situation is very damaging as you can see with the exit of tour companies and tourists. You have seen what had happened in Egypt.”

Tunisia attracted 6.9 million visitors in 2010, falling to 4.7 million in 2011. But numbers were back up to more than 6 million last year, according to the consultancy Euromonitor International.

“The terrorist attacks can prolong the recovery process of the travel industry in Tunisia,” said Nadejda Popova, a senior travel analyst with Euromonitor.

International tour operators such as Germany’s TUI and Neckermann and the UK’s Rainbow Tours have cancelled flights to Tunisia. The share prices of tour operators such as TUI and Thomas Cook have taken a battering since the beach attack last Friday that killed 38 people, most of them Europeans.

“We have had a few hundred requests by guests who have booked a Tunisia holiday in the coming weeks and months to rebook their holidays mainly to the Canaries [and] Turkey,” a TUI spokesman told The National yesterday.

The tour operator handles about 60,000 guests a year from Germany, and currently there are 3,800 German tourists in Tunisia of which about 250 requested to leave the country early, before the scheduled end of their holidays, he said.

The UK-based Thomas Cook said about 4,000 Thomas Cook UK guests had left Tunisia since the attack.

“We have added capacity in four other popular summer holiday destinations including Spain, Portugal, Bulgaria and Turkey to respond to increased demand,” a Thomas Cook spokeswoman told The National.

Tunisia is estimated to lose at least US$515 million in tourism revenues this year, according to the country’s tourism minister Salma Loumi.

The revival of tourism in North Africa has been tempting many European holiday makers away from alternative destinations such as Dubai, where hotel room rates are still much higher despite successive declines in recent months.

“With respect to the current situation in Tunisia, Dubai always benefits from unrest anywhere in the region. It is not really a budget location, but it is a competition to other Middle East and North African markets to a point,” said CBRE’s Mr Green.

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