On 18th March 2015, two Tunisian men, Yassine Labidi and Saber Khachnaoui, accompanied by a third man attacked Bardo National Museum, one of their country’s chief tourist attractions. Of the twenty-two dead, twenty were foreigners visiting the renowned museum. The world was shocked, but there was no precedent. It had never happened in Tunisia. So, life continued.
Three months later, on June 26, a 22-year old electrical engineering student, Seifedinne Rezgui Yacoubi, concealing an AK-47, made his way to the touristy Port El Kantaoui Beach. After reportedly calling his father, he tossed the phone into the sea and began shooting like a mad man. 300+ room Rui Imperial Marhaba hotel and nearby Soviva hotel supplied the beach most of its tourist guests. This sprung the appetite of Yacoubi’s Kalashnikov rifle, which lashed and crashed against unsuspecting pleasure-seekers.
By the time he was killed, thirty-eight lay dead. None of them was Tunisian. Thirty were British. Three were Irish. Two were German. Belgium, Russia, and Portugal also lost a citizen each. Yacoubi and Labidi’s acts were intended to scare away tourists from Tunisia’s packed beaches and hotels, locations which they considered “brothels.”
The ideology worked wonders. German and British tour operators, TUI and Thomson Cook respectively, pulled out of the country. Within a short time, other tour giants, frequently European, left the country.
Tunisia took steps. It immediately shut down 80 mosques around the Sousse governorate, where many of Tunisia’s best tourist sites are located. Then it sacked the governor and top policemen whose slowness to duty had doubled casualties. Then it came out strongly against ISIS, washing its hands off the organization’s “brothel” narrative. The whole time, touristy Europeans watched from afar, warned off Tunisia by their governments.
Until February 2019. Thomson Cook was the first to resume tours to Tunisia, connecting the United Kingdom as well as French, German, and Belgian cities to major Tunisian tourist sites. Immediately, 220 pleasure seekers made that first resumption flight. Peter Fankhauser, Thomas Cook CEO said the tourists “were excited to go back.”
That same February, Greek national carrier, Aegean made plans to connect Athens, just as TUI Fly made plans to connect Antwerp. This wave of acceptance spilled into April, as more tour groups rekindled interest in Tunisia. Now, Spain’s third largest airline, Air Europa, has resumed flights to Tunisia after nine years.
In a move that is rather symbolic for the resurrection of Tunisia’s tourism industry, the airline has planned 280 flights between June and October, potentially bringing nearly 33,600 tourists to the North African nation’s doorsteps. In May, Spain’s Foreign Affairs Ministry had lifted travel bans on Tunisia’s southern regions of Mededine, Tataouine, Tozeur, and Kebili.
The airline, which is owned by Globalia, Spain’s largest tourist group, is renewing its bet on Tunisia, a charming holiday destination for Spanish tourists. According to Air Europa Sales Director, Moez Oudi, bookings have reached eighty percent. No surprises there, as the European continent is a big tourist traveller. According to hotelandtourismonline.com, European tourists spent 2.5 billion nights abroad in 2015.
Tunisia is blessed with picturesque beaches, ancient and historic settlements, archeological sites, spades of scenic sand dunes, extraordinary architectural units, as well as famous movie locations, ensuring that tourists will always flock to it. The country is aiming to reclaim its place at the pinnacle of tourism on the continent. So far, things are looking great. It bears astute symbolism worth mentioning here that the first tour group to return to the country in 2018 is called Intrepid. Tunisians will be hoping fear mongering will remain a nationally banished demon, and that more tourists will return often.
By Caleb Ajinomoh