Following a reduction in international arrivals between 2015 and 2016, tourism in Tunisia is rebounding. This shift is due to a combination of rising visitor figures from emerging markets and the recovery of visitor numbers from traditional locations. Foreign tourism spending increased 15.1% in 2017 to reach TD4.4bn (€1.7bn), while numbers of international tourists rose 23.2% to 7.05m, a figure that surpasses the 2010 record of 6.9m. As a result, revenues from the tourism sector reached TD2.7bn (€1bn) in 2017. In the first three months of 2018 visitor numbers grew 23% year-on-year, putting the country on track to reach 8m visitors by the end of 2018. This represents a considerable turnaround for the sector, which suffered a sharp decline following two major terrorist incidents in 2015.
At the forefront of the revival has been a rapid expansion of new markets, providing a fresh source of revenue for the sector. Russian arrivals have increased dramatically, surging from around 46,000 in 2015 to around 514,000 in 2017. This was largely attributed to improving bilateral ties between the two countries, along with instability in traditional Russian holiday destinations such as Egypt and Turkey.
There has also been a dramatic increase in Chinese tourism. China was the fastest growing foreign tourism market in 2017, with 19,000 arrivals, a 156.8% increase on 2016. There is hope that these figures will increase further in 2018 and beyond, after visa requirements for Chinese nationals were removed in February 2017 and Tunisia was named the “Best African Tourist Destination of 2017” by the China-based Shanghai World Travel Fair. According to the Ministry of Tourism (MoT) and Tunisian officials the number of annual visitors from China can be expected to reach 50,000 by 2020.
The surge in arrivals and revenue from these new markets has been complemented by a recovery in activity from traditional partners in Europe and Africa. European tourists have historically formed the backbone of the sector, but figures declined dramatically following the events of 2015. Thanks in part to improved security procedures at holiday resorts, along with the UK government’s decision in July to follow France and Germany in easing travel warnings to Tunisia, European arrivals increased by 20% to 1.7m in 2017, with French visitor numbers rising 46% and German numbers rising 41% during this period. This decision has brought with it the return of UK companies such as Thomas Cook, which is expected to result in a significant increase in activity.
The return of UK tourists is seen as a potential boon for the sector, prior to 2015 UK arrivals reached 440,000 per year. Closer to home, arrivals from neighbouring Algeria increased 38.1% in 2017, with Algerians accounting for 2.5m, or 35% of all foreign visitors.
This increase comes on the back of a strong marketing campaign aimed at Algerian holidaymakers, and also ties into a broader national tourism strategy focused on fostering activity from the African market, particularly for medical tourism. As part of this strategy Tunisia has removed visa requirements for citizens of 11 African countries, including Angola, Botswana, Cameroon, Niger, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The changing dynamics of Tunisia’s tourism industry have also led to a change in sector strategy, as stakeholders move towards expanding their offering with both an increase in luxury and heritage-based holidays. The opening of the Four Seasons Hotel Tunis highlights the ongoing expansion of the luxury segment in the country, and signals a move away from traditional mass tourism deals.
It is hoped that the development of this type of tourism, along with attractions such as high-end leisure activities and duty-free shopping, will attract more visitors from the GCC. In addition to luxury offerings, there has been an effort to develop Tunisia’s cultural heritage attractions, with officials looking at ways to capitalise on the potential presented by this segment.
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