It’s been eight months since a lone gunman opened fire on a beach in Port El Kantaoui, 10 km north of Sousse in Tunisia, killing 38 tourists and injuring 39. This happened three months after 22 people were massacred in a terrorist attack on the Bardo National Museum in Tunis. The effect was to practically wipe out the Tunisian tourist industry. British tourists in particular stopped coming. Following the attack at Port El Kantaoui where 30 British tourists died, the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) amended its travel warning to a ban, advising against all travel in several terrorist hotspots and all but essential travel to the rest of the country. Agents Thomas Cook and Tui followed by cancelling their entire summer programmes to the country. Ninety per cent of British visits are booked with these two agents. Ireland and Denmark followed suit by banning non-essential travel to the country, but Germany and France did not.
The FCO states that comprehensive travel and medical insurance are essential if travelling to Tunisia, but it does not condone visiting and as a result travel insurance is impossible to obtain. The FCO’s website states: “Since the terrorist attack in Sousse in June 2015, we have been working closely with the Tunisian authorities to investigate the attack and the wider threat from terrorist groups in Tunisia. Although we have had good co-operation from the Tunisian government, including putting in place additional security measures, the intelligence and threat picture has developed considerably, reinforcing our view that a further terrorist attack is highly likely. On balance, we do not believe the mitigation measures in place provide adequate protection for British tourists in Tunisia at the present time.”
Tarek Aouadi, director of the Tunisian National Tourist Office (TNTO), said that prior to the attack last June, the UK was set to become Tunisia’s largest market, surpassing Germany and France. In 2014, 425,000 UK tourists visited the country. “The UK market was getting closer and closer to the French and German markets,” Aouadi told travel agent website TTG. “[It] was on its way to overtaking the German market. It would have reached the same figures as the French market in about two or three years.”
Some 17,750 Brits had booked to visit the country for the summer of 2016 and Aouadi speculated that this number would have jumped to 40,000 by April 2016 if bookings had still been available. “[UK] people are telling me ‘we will go back as soon as the issues are over’,” he added. At the time of writing, the UK government had not amended its advice not to travel and so it is virtually impossible for British tourists to buy travel insurance as no UK company can offer a product for the country.
Security in hotels and restaurants has been stepped up following the attacks with staff training, more CCTV cameras and metal detectors, and Tunisia has also built a barrier along its border with Libya to prevent the movement of militants. Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, recently inspected hotels in Sousse and said that Tunisia had taken ‘all necessary preventative security measures to ensure holidays could be taken safely’. However, the FCO remains unconvinced: “The Tunisian authorities have increased their security measures but have also acknowledged the limitations in their ability to counter the current terrorist threat.”
Deputy director of TNTO Mounira Derbel said that she had hoped that the FCO would lift its travel ban late last year. Now it looks as though it will be later this year, with Tunisia’s 2016 advertising campaign on indefinite hold. “Since we have this ban we can’t advertise the destination, but we are redefining our market strategy approach,” Derbel said. “We have to keep optimistic. We can’t give up because if we do, we let the terrorists win and we are not ready to give them that opportunity.”