Interview: Amine Moukarzel
What steps should stakeholders take to hasten the recovery of the tourism sector?
AMINE MOUKARZEL: The tourism industry in Tunis has all the necessary fundamentals in place and for many years led the national Tunisian economy as an important player that contributed to the development and success of the hospitality industry, providing many jobs and contributing to the GDP of the country.
Though the shocks of the Arab Spring have opened up new opportunities in various sectors, mass tourism has proven to be quite vulnerable and sensitive, and has struggled to quickly recover. Hoteliers have realised that the hotels which were under lease agreements have not provided a successful return on investment to owners. If business slows down, lessees tend to withdraw and hotels, in turn, must face either a devaluation of their real estate assets or close down completely.
The steps to recovery involve improving cooperation between the public and private sector and diminishing the reliance on mass tourism. They also involve the further development of meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) as an additional niche segment and the targeting of new markets. In particular, the Tunisian tourism industry should aim to attract tourists from: Russia, England, the Levant, the Arab Gulf and — in the long term — India and China.
Lastly, recovery will depend on the identification of clear goals outlined in a five-year plan, which prioritises the implementation of a programme ensuring the safety of travellers, staff and all involved in the sector.
How can Tunisia set itself apart from other destinations in the Mediterranean Basin?
MOUKARZEL: Although sun-and-sand package tours will remain a part of Tunisia’s tourism offering, the Ministry of Tourism and the National Office of Tunisian Tourism will work to improve the country’s branding overseas by leveraging its unique culture and hospitality. Moreover, Tunisia must diversify both its tourist offering and its client base. In particular, Tunisia should aim to attract more families, MICE attendees and moderate- to high spenders. Attracting more millennials represents an additional opportunity that Tunisia can capitalise on, by improving and diversifying nightlife in Tunis and other touristic cities.
What is your assessment of the competitiveness of the hospitality workforce in Tunisia?
MOUKARZEL: The Tunisian hospitality labour force is one of the best in North Africa. Any organisation’s most important asset is its people. The number of Tunisians that hold leadership positions within the hotel industry is a testament to the quality of Tunisia’s hospitality workforce, which has reduced the need for expatriate management. Improving retention rates will require greater attention to career development and guidance.
Nevertheless, challenges remain, and one relates to the incentive structure of Tunisia’s labour market. The country’s labour laws, unions and related associations interact in a way that falls short of improving the quality of the hospitality labour force. A new generation of hospitality professionals must seize the opportunity to construct an employer-employee relationship that better contributes to the improvement of the workforce.
What room is there for further improvement regarding the security of tourists?
MOUKARZEL: A hostile geopolitical environment and armed conflicts around the world are putting all countries at risk of terrorist threats, including those that border conflict zones as Tunisia does. In turn, the Tunisian government must continue to exercise tight control over the security of its borders, airports and other sensitive areas to diminish public safety threats.
Indeed, heightened security has become a way of life everywhere. Nevertheless, Tunisia is safe at all levels, thanks in part to Tunisians themselves who love their country and have an interest in maintaining its security.
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