Tourism in Tunisia
In this article, we will examine the effects that terror attacks have on tourism in Tunisia. We will discuss the historical reliance of tourism for the Tunisian government, how this was impacted by a series of terror attacks in the country, and more recent attempts at attracting additional tourists. Tunisian tourism as a very important part of the country’s overall economy. Specifically, “more than 14 percent of Tunisian gross domestic product (GDP) came from tourism” (Lageman, 2015).
The Effects of the 2015 Terror Attacks on Tourism in Tunisia
Tunisia has faced a series of terror attacks following the uprisings that took Zine el Abedine Ben Ali from power in early 2011. However, it has been two more recent terror attacks in Tunisia that have led the government to further change their approach towards fighting terrorism in the country.
In March of 2015, gunman attacked people at the Bardo National Museum in Tunis, killing 22 individuals (TTP, 2016). Then a few months later, one of the other most recent terror attacks in Tunisia was on the June 26th, 2015 attacks in Port El Kantaoui, which is north of Sousse. Here, a gunman entered the beat area from the waterway and then began shooting tourists by the Hotel Rui Imperial Marhaba. In addition, the individual also went into the hotel, and through a grenade into a corridor (BBC, 2015). A total of thirty-eight people were killed. Another thirty-nine people were hurt (TTG, 2016).
The effect of these attacks on tourism in Tunisia has been large, given that Tunisian tourism has dropped substantially since these attacks. This seems to especially be the case from the UK, where ” Following the Sousse massacre, the British Foreign Office immediately amended its travel warning, advising against all but essential travel to Tunisia – a ban that has remained in place” (TTG, 2016).
Tarek Aouadi, who serves as the director of the Tunisian National Tourist Office responded to the UKs position calling it a “pity” (TTG, 2015). This is a large change from years prior, where the UK tourists were among the highest number of individuals that were traveling to Tunisia, just under Germany and France.
The drop in Tunisian tourism can be traced back to the events following the Arab uprisings. The year before that (2010) was seen as a “boom year” for tourism in Tunisia (TTG, 2016). The government under Ben Ali devoted a great deal of resources and development projects to ensure that tourists would visit northern Tunisia (even at the expense of neglecting other parts of the country). However, following the 2011 protests, the threat of terrorism has continued to loom over travelers. Now, this is not to say that the tourism numbers in Tunisia stopped immediately. In fact, there were 425,000 UK travelers touring in Tunisia in 2014. Yet, in 2015, the number of British tourists in Tunisia fell to 207,000 (TTG, 2015).
Many of those living in the coastal towns–who rely on high numbers of tourists going to Tunisia, have said that their lives and economic stability has been greatly impacted by the two more recent 2015 attacks. Sales have been down for people, and it is not expected to get better anytime soon. It is important to note that roughly 400,000 of the total 10 million people who are working in the country have jobs related to the tourism industry in Tunisia (Lageman, 2015). Overall, is was expected that Tunisian tourism would lose 384 million dollars compared to last year (2014) (Lageman, 2015).
Again, this is all a major problem for the Tunisian economy, which is heavily reliant on tourism, and which has not seen a steady (and significant) climb in overall economic growth since the 2011 uprisings (Lageman, 2015). Because of this, the government, and others, are looking for ways to increase tourism in Tunisia.
In July of 2015, Abdellatif Hamam, the director general of the Tunisian National Tourist Office was quoted as saying that “The top priority for the next years will be safety, safety, safety (Stephen, 2015). He went on to say that “We cannot afford any more incidents” (Stephen, 2015).
Government Security and Tourism in Tunisia
The government also understands the importance of tourism in Tunisia, and thus, has been working to increase security at the hotel and beach destinations since the attacks. They are also in coordination with Western countries such as Britain and others to further improve security in these areas (TTG, 2016). In addition, they have went after radical terror groups in the country. They have done this through a state of emergency, as well as a anti-terrorism legislation that gives them significant powers to go after individuals and groups in the country. The Interior Ministry has argued that the state of emergency has been useful in Tunisia fighting terrorism. Walid Loukini, the media offer within the Tunisian Interior Ministry was quoted as saying that “The state of emergency has helped us enormously to catch the terrorists” (Stephen, 2015).
It has also been reported that there has been a great difference in the number of police present in the beach and hotel areas in the north. For example, in Sousse, the reporter Chris Stephen noted that “It took 40 minutes for officers to arrive on the day of the attack, but now armed officers in black-and-white T-shirts are posted in each hotel, despite the fact that there are fewer and fewer people to guard. More watch over traffic junctions, while a coastguard cutter and gendarmerie on jet skis with red flashing lights patrol the shoreline” (Stephen, 2015).
While this is reassuring, many in Tunisia have felt that the government has not been adequately prepared to deal with terror threats. For example, one police person noted that low salaries have made it less motivating for him to do their jobs. Another said that they wanted to act, but were waiting for orders from a higher up to do so. In addition, there were also complaints that they did not have the proper equipment to go after the terrorist (Lageman, 2015). This sort of lack of preparedness was not lost on Tunisians. For example, Ministry of Tourism press attache Zoubayer Jbali was quoted as saying that “We had no experience with terrorism in Tunisia” (Lageman, 2015). This has shifted of course now; the government has increased police presence, as well as equipment, along with the new legislation at the national level.
However, others are not so sure that the government is able to effectively stomp out the terrorism threat in the country. Part of the concern is not merely the ability of radicals to act in Tunisia, but it is also the instability in Libya, and the impact that this has on terrorists to commit attacks back in Tunisia. A few of the terror attackers went to receive training at the Islamic State camp in the western part of Libya (in Sabratha), and then returned back to Tunisia to carry out the attacks (Stephen, 2015). As we discussed elsewhere, Libya itself is in a state of civil war in which there does not exist a stable national government. Groups like ISIS have sadly taken advantage of this, gaining and holding territory in Eastern Libya, and in Sirte.
Others are critical of the approach that the government is taking to fight terrorism. For example, many have criticized the new anti-terrorism legislation passed in July 2015 because of the far reaching authority of the state. For example, while both secular and Islamists backed the plan, many non-governmental organizations and others in civil society feel that the new law does more harm than good. For one, the new law reintroduces capital punishment. In addition, under the new anti-terrorism law, suspects can be held for 15 days without the ability to speak with an attorney. They could also be brought in front of a court without having met with their lawyers (The Guardian, 2015). In addition, phone taps are much easier to obtain. Again, the concern that activists have is not that they are trying to fight terrorism, or improve safety for tourism in Tunisia. Rather, there is a fear that by not being specific about what terrorism crimes are, it gives authorities too much ability to go after anyone that they themselves might call a threat, which could pose serious challenges to the rights of millions of Tunisians (The Guardian, 2015).
BBC (2015). Tunisia Attack: What we know about what happened. 30 June 2015. Available Online: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-33304897
Lageman, T. (2015). Tunisia’s Tourism Struggling one month after massacre. Al Jazeera. 29 July 2015. Available Online:
Stephen, C. (2015). Tourist desert Tunisia after June terror attack. The Guardian. 25 September, 2015. Available Online: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/25/tourists-tunisia-june-terror-attack-economy-beach-hotel-sousse
The Guardian (2015). Tunisia adopts tougher counter-terrorism law in wake of attacks. The Guardian. 24 July 2015. Available Online: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/25/tunisia-adopts-tougher-counter-terrorism-law-in-wake-of-attacks
TTG (2016). Tunisia not ready to let the terrorists win. 18 February 2016. Available Online: https://www.ttgmedia.com/news/news/tunisia-not-ready-to-let-the-terrorists-win-3269