So, you’re a country that’s just undergone a highly publicised popular revolution that’s seen the overthrow of your government and prompted key source markets for tourism to advise against travel and you want to encourage travellers back, and quickly. What do you do?
Slash prices, of course. There’s nothing like the whiff of a bargain to induce a state of amnesia among would-be sunseekers about troubles so recently making news headlines, particularly in these austere times.
But while Egyptian hoteliers might be taking the hatchet to rates, by as much as 40% according to some reports, in Tunisia the interim government has instructed its hoteliers not to follow suit.
One very good reason why this is right for Tunisia is that it is already at the bottom end of the price spectrum. In the winter some are charging just £10 per person per night, according to one operator at a dinner for key trade partners organised by the tourist board in London last night.
The other reason is that, unlike Egypt, Tunisia is still very much on the upward curve when it comes to establishing itself as a mainstream package holiday destination, and that means it can’t compromise on quality for the sake of a short term fix fuelled by unsustainable discounts.
The role model here is Turkey. It has only succeeded in persuading the likes of Thomas Cook and Tui Travel to pile on capacity by investing in its tourism product. The huge potential of the north African Mediterranean coast has long gone unfulfilled due to quality issues. Ask any operator: people would give it a try the first time and wouldn’t go back because it didn’t meet their expectations.
The timing of Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution in many ways couldn’t have been worse, coming as it did just as people traditionally decide on their next holiday destination.
Long tipped as the next affordable short-haul holiday hotspot, Tunisia saw a 29% increase in UK visitors last year taking the total to 350,000, and seeing the UK leapfrog Italy as its third largest source destination.
With Thomas Cook resuming flights on March 2 and Tui Travel on March 13 after the lifting of the FCO travel warning and, crucially, a curfew earlier this week, the Brits are set to return.
Cook will be back to close on full capacity shortly after Easter, with departures from 10 regional airports. Representatives who had just returned from the country said Tunisia was ready to welcome people back, some hoteliers having taken the opportunity the crisis offered to spruce up their properties.
The Tunisia tourist office is planning a major marketing campaign with its new heart motif launched, appropriately, on Valentine’s Day and says it hopes to achieve at least the same number of British visitors as last year, accepting growth this year is probably not realistic.
However the year eventually pans out, Tunisia can be assured of the support of the British tour operators, big and small, present at last night’s event and of the British government, which was lauded by the UK ambassador for Tunisia for being the first to lift the travel ban and still the only one to lift it for the entire country, not just the coastal region.
The importance of this decision cannot be underestimated for a country that has 400,000 people employed in tourism, a sector that is its largest earner of foreign currency.
The Brits might have been the first out, but they were the first back in and 11 million Tunisians, newly freed from repression, are preparing to give them a very warm welcome.
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