Coronavirus crisis punctures Tunisia tourism rebound

  • Monday 18, May 2020 02:05 PM
  • Coronavirus crisis punctures Tunisia tourism rebound
Sharjah24 – AFP: As the novel coronavirus pandemic wipes out a recovery from attacks in 2015, Tunisia's vital tourism sector is trying to find ways to avoid going under.
"Normally, the season starts now. But there is nobody," said Mohammed Saddam, who owns an antiques shop in the famous blue and white village of Sidi Bou Said, near the capital Tunis.

Usually its streets are filled with tourists at this time of year, but now Saddam is only opening his store for an hour a day to air it out.

"We are waiting for the airspace to reopen," he said. "But 2020 is a write-off."

The North African country has registered 45 deaths from the COVID-19 illness, and for several days this week saw no new infections, putting it among Mediterranean countries faring relatively well in the pandemic.

But the crisis has led to a shortfall in tourism revenues of six billion dinars (over $2 billion), the country's national tourism office has estimated, and some 400,000 jobs are at risk.

Now, seaside resorts are empty and hoteliers are trying to salvage what they can of the season, counting on the country's relatively optimistic health situation and sector-specific virus prevention measures.

- Steps to 'regain trust' -
While most hotels have shut for now, some are providing accommodation for people in compulsory quarantine, notably Tunisians repatriated from abroad.

The tourism ministry is preparing protocols for facilities that reopen, with some planning to do so from June.

Measures are expected to include temperature checks at hotel entrances, rooms being disinfected and left empty for 48 hours between guests and the intensive cleaning of common areas.

The UN World Tourism Organization has warned that international tourist numbers could drop by 60 to 80 percent in 2020.

The sector accounts for around 14 percent of Tunisia's GDP, according to the tourism ministry.

- Limited options -
The security situation has greatly improved since then, and tourist numbers last year had returned to pre-2011 levels, with 9.5 million visitors.

Domestic tourism accounts for just 20 percent of Tunisia's market, and many locals have seen their income and holiday allowances disappear during the lockdown.