Tunisia’s Tourism Struggles After Islamist Attacks

Tourists relax on the beach of El Ksar hotel in Sousse, Tunisia June 24, 2016. Photo: Reuters
Tourists relax on the beach of El Ksar hotel in Sousse, Tunisia June 24, 2016. Photo: Reuters

A year after 39 mostly British holiday makers were gunned down on a beach in Sousse, Tunisia’s tourist industry is still struggling to recover from the attack and an earlier Islamic State raid on a museum in Tunis.

The Imperial Marhaba hotel attacked by Saifeddine Rezgui remains closed, and other hotels have also shut down as British tour groups, once among the resort’s main visitors, stay away.

Tourism accounts for 8 percent of Tunisia’s gross domestic product, provides thousands of jobs and is a key source of foreign currency. Lost revenues — down 35 percent last year, at $1.5 billion — helped push the dinar currency to historic lows against the dollar and euro this month.

At the shuttered Marhaba, where Rezgui worked his way through the beach to the pool and lobby, killing as he went, bullet holes still mark the outer walls.

On a recent day only three tourists were lounging on its beach, where a year ago visitors laid flowers and messages on the sand in memory of those who died on June 26, 2015.

“We think we will re-open next year,” said hotel manager Mehrez Saadi. “For now we start by changing the name from the Imperial Marhaba to Kantaoui Bay.”

Reviving a tourist industry also hit by the deaths of 21 foreign visitors in another attack by Islamic State gunmen on the Bardo national museum in the capital may take more than a change of hotel names.

Tourist arrivals fell to 5.5 million last year, the lowest in decades, after several European tour companies and cruise operators suspended operations, and numbers this year are expected to be similar.

In 2014, Tunisia had attracted 760,000 holiday makers from France, 425,000 Germans and 400,000 Britons, according to Euromonitor International.

Tourism Minister Salma Elloumi Rekik told Reuters she was urging European leaders to support Tunisia by lifting warnings against travel to the North African state. She said initial airline bookings for the summer looked positive.