Critical in securing international connections for both tourism and business travellers, Tunisia’s air transport sector has closely followed the country’s economic expansion over the past two decades. Post-revolution instability and the 2015 terrorist attacks on tourism resorts along its Mediterranean coast badly affected international passenger figures. However, the return of international airlines and plans to invest in new infrastructure are reopening the sector’s growth potential.
Tunisia’s air travel segment accounts for about 2% of the country’s GDP, according to figures from the Ministry of Transport, with civil aviation sustaining 15,000 direct jobs and 20,000 indirect ones. The country currently has nine international airports, although the bulk of national and international flights concentrate on the capital’s Tunis-Carthage International Airport.
Between January and September 2017 the number of air passengers arriving in Tunisia rose by 30.9%, according to international media reports, making the country one of the fastest-growing air markets in Africa in 2017. In January 2018 authorities announced that foreign arrivals in 2017 reached 7.05m, representing a 23.2% increase on the previous year’s tally, allowing some breathing room for both the aeronautics sector and the tourism industry.
Since 2011 the number of foreign travellers arriving in Tunisia had been impacted both by the political and social instability that came after the revolution, as well as by a string of terrorist attacks. A considerable reduction was felt immediately in 2011, with the number of foreign tourists falling from 6.9m in 2010 to 4.7m in 2011. However, a strong pick-up in visitors was only a few years later when foreign arrivals climbed as high as 7.1m in 2014. However, a terrorist attack in the beach resort of Sousse in June 2015 led to another sharp decrease in visitor numbers to 5.2m by the end of that year, but recovering to 5.7m by the end of 2016.
A sense of stability and security is encouraging airlines and tour operators to look to Tunisia once more. In June 2017 Malta’s flag carrier, Air Malta, re-opened links between the Mediterranean island nation and Tunis-Carthage, with capacity towards other European countries also being proposed.
The UK tourism market was among the most affected after the 2015 Sousse terrorist attack, with the British government banning its citizens to travel to Tunisia after 30 of its citizens were killed. However, in August 2017 the UK’s Foreign Office withdrew its security warning for most of the country, maintaining the risk level for the areas bordering Algeria and Libya, but removing Tunisia’s coastal resorts from its list of areas to avoid. This prompted international tour operator Thomas Cook to restart sales of packaged tours to Tunisia for British citizens in 2017. In August 2017 Tunisia’s flag carrier, Tunisair, began planning the establishment of several charter flights between Tunisia and Gatwick airport located south of London, as well as other regional UK airports beginning in April 2018.
In early 2017 Tunisair announced it would be operating two additional weekly flights linking Monastir and the island of Djerba to Italy’s northern city of Milan from June to September 2017, as well as an additional 37 weekly flight connections between Tunis and several Italian cities, including Rome, Bologna, Venice and Naples, also starting from June. This followed new links to Algeria in 2017, starting with regular flights to the eastern Algerian city of Constantine and to Conakry, in Guinea, with plans for several other African countries in the following two years, including Douala in Cameroon, Lagos, Nigeria and the Ghanaian capital Accra.
Two other factors are set to spur the growth of air traffic in Tunisia. First, authorities have stated that a project to build a new airport to serve the capital is likely to go ahead over the coming years. Additionally, the anticipated “Open Skies” agreement, introducing lowcost carriers between the EU and Tunisia in 2017 and set to come into effect in 2018, is also likely to raise air traffic links between Tunisia and surrounding regions.
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