A deadly attack killed at least 38 people – mostly foreign tourists – at a beachfront hotel at Sousse in Tunisia on Friday (26 June). The shootings came on the heels of the fatal attack on the Bardo National Museum in the capital, Tunis, in May. The latest attack, if the developments after it are any indication, could mean devastating, long-term damage to the tourism industry.
After the Islamic State in Iraq and Sham (ISIS) militants claimed responsibility for the fatal shootings, thousands of tourists have fled Tunisia, a country that was tagged as a safe North African destination for Europeans seeking low cost beaches. Many countries have heightened travel alerts for their nationals planning trips to the Arab country following the recent attack. The reports suggest that the Sousse attack will strike a heavy blow to Tunisia’s tourism-driven economy.
Tourism: Major artery of economy
Tunisia’s tourism and economy had suffered in the aftermath of the Arab Spring in 2011 and the current militant attack is highly likely to be yet another nail in the coffin for the country’s tourism, which is worth up to 15 percent of the national economy. Unlike its neighbors, the country had managed to emerge as politically and economically stable after the Arab Spring.
While there were 6.9 million visitor footfalls in 2010, they fell to 4.8m in 2011 when the country had met with widespread unrest. The following years witnessed a decline in number of tourists due to political instability and militancy in the Arab world. But in 2014, Tunisia witnessed a huge comeback with the arrivals of 6.1m tourists to its beach resorts and numerous historic sites.
The tourism industry was springing up as travellers preferred the country’s beaches to those of conflict-hit Egypt, Libya and other Middle Eastern countries.
Over the last year, the travel and tourism had contributed $3 billion to the GDP (15.2 percent of the total), according to the World Travel and Tourism Council’s annual Travel and Tourism Economic Impact report. The number of jobs supported by travel and tourism was 473,000 (13.8 percent of total employment).
The report has also forecast that visitor arrivals will reach 6,495,000 in 2015. But it is highly unlikely that the country will hit the mark at the outset of the militant attack.
Renewed travel advice
Many countries have renewed their travel advice to their citizens travelling to Tunisia following the shootings. Of those that died in the attack, 15 were British and three were from Ireland.
The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office urged its nationals to remain vigilant as it expected further militant strikes. It also advised visitors against travelling to a few destinations in Tunisia. A total of 424,707 British nationals visited Tunisia last year.
Ireland asked its citizens to maintain a high level of security awareness while visiting their preferred destination in North Africa. It asked tourists to avoid several areas including Tunisia’s Greater South including the areas bordering Libya and Algeria.
Canada also advised its nationals to “exercise a high degree of caution due to the risk of civil unrest and the heightened threat of terrorism in the region”.
The new travel advice will undoubtedly affect the arrivals of tourists to Tunisia. The country’s tourism and economy may take several years to recover from the effects of this latest militant activity.
(This article was first published on www.ameinfo.com, a TRENDS sister website)