Mediterranean states mull ways to draw tourists back
DJERBA (Tunisia), April 17 — Tourism officials met yesterday on the Tunisian island of Djerba — a holidaymaker’s magnet before the Arab Spring uprisings — to revive the Mediterranean basin as the world’s top travel destination.
“Besides the economic crisis in the origin countries, ongoing political changes in North African and Middle East destinations have had negative repercussions on the sector,” said the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) and the Tunisian government, which organised the two-day meeting.
“The aim is to preserve the position of the Mediterranean zone as the top global destination in terms of international arrivals,” Frederic Pierret, executive director of the UNWTO, told a meeting attended by 400 people from 40 countries, including Egypt, Morocco, Algeria and Turkey.
The 29 countries that lie around the Mediterranean attract about a third of global tourism flows, and 29 per cent of the sector’s revenues, Pierret told AFP.
Strategic alliances should be made to “lay the groundwork for closer co-operation between the north and south, as well as east and west,” he said, echoing the organisers’ call for a “shared vision.”
Host country Tunisia, where a popular uprising led to the ousting of strongman Zine el Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011, saw its tourism receipts plunge by a third in 2011.
Tourism is a key sector for the north African state, making up seven per cent of its output and directly employing 400,000 people.
Three-and-a-half months after an Islamist-led government took power, protests continue to plague Tunisia, fuelled by growing unemployment and higher costs of living.
Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali stressed during the conference that the revolution in his country did not turn it into a “jungle.”
“Do not fear democracy and freedom,” he said, deploring the image of chaos that he claims “some want to give” to post-revolution Tunisia.
Tourism Minister Elyes Fakhfakh stressed that Tunisia remains “an open country,” and suggested creating a Mediterranean label under which travel opportunities in the region could be jointly marketed abroad.
Fakhfakh told AFP that his country has the capacity to win back the 2.2 million tourists that chose to holiday elsewhere in 2011.
“If the situation continues to improve on the social, security plans, Tunisia could recover all of its losses by 2013,” he added, citing the seven million visitorship recorded in 2010 as the target.
Egypt, where a popular uprising in 2011 led to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, saw its tourism revenues drop 30 per cent during the year due to the unrest.
“Everytime there is trouble that brings about a feeling of insecurity, tourists become reticent. Such behaviour is normal,” said Pierret. — AFP-Relaxnews