Destination Tunisia

Tunisia

Restored faith in Tunisia’s safety is slowly but surely bringing forth positive results, with travellers returning to experience the culture-fuelled country’s fascinating offering. Tatiana Tsierkezou writes.

Tunisia’s tourism industry has no doubt been struggling over the past few years, due to various incidents that have made international headlines and have been ruthlessly damaging to the country. But now, things are looking up for the destination, and in January 2018, tourism revenue increased by 15.7 per cent to $63.3 million, from $54.9 million in January 2017, indicating that Tunisia is now back on the tourist map.

Not only this, a handful of travel specialists, including Thomas Cook and TUI, have announced their return to the country this year.

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A spokesperson for TUI UK & Ireland commented on this news: “We have reintroduced Hammamet as a destination for summer 2018, starting with four flights per week into Enfidha from Bristol, Manchester, Gatwick and Birmingham. The flights will operate from May 1, 2018, in response to customer demand.”

LUXURY OPENINGS

As well as major travel and tourism entities marking their return, luxury hospitality specialists have been keenly eyeing the country’s potential. In December last year, Four Seasons Hotel Tunis opened its doors for business, presenting travellers with 203 beautifully appointed guestrooms, inclusive of 35 luxurious suites, and a portfolio of top-notch facilities.

Minor Hotels is also strongly focused on developing its portfolio in Tunisia, with Anantara Tozeur Resort scheduled to open in mid-2018; AVANI Les Berges Du Lac Tunis Suites, located in Les Berges du Lac II – a prime commercial, residential and diplomatic area in the country’s capital – opening this year; and AVANI Gammarth Tunis Resort & Spa slated to open its doors in 2021.

According to tourism reports, other pipeline hotels include two Golden Tulip-branded properties that are scheduled to inaugurate this year, as well as a Ritz- Carlton branded hotel, with others on the horizon.

But one particularly notable opening that is fast approaching, is that of the brand-new Mövenpick Hotel du Lac Tunis. Speaking to TTG exclusively about this game-changing addition was the hotel’s general manager, Nicolas Pezout: “Our 189-key hotel, which is located in the city’s attractive Berges du Lac business and diplomatic district, will be opening this spring. With an inspiring setting, world-class restaurants, a magnificent spa and extensive meetings and events facilities, Mövenpick Hotel du Lac Tunis is set to make its mark as a premier dining, entertainment and wedding destination in the heart of Tunis.”

Pezout shared that guests cannot only expect the hallmark Mövenpick warmth and quality of service, but also a long-standing tradition of smiling hospitality that is deeply rooted in Tunisian locals.

“Our hotel will stand out from the competition because it doesn’t only offer top-notch bedding, e-connected rooms, a wonderful spa, great culi¬nary experiences and stunning views of Lake Tunis. It is essentially about the little things, and our success will be measured by how we succeed in doing ordinary things in an extraordinary way, all surpassing our guests’ expectations.”

Meanwhile, Frankfurt-based Deutsche Hospitality, which already has a strong foothold in Tunisia with two stunning properties in Sousse (the Steigenberger Hotel Kantaoui Bay and the Jaz Hotel Tour Khalef, both of which are operated by the locally based Tunisia Hospitality Group) is also gearing up for further expansion. This spring, a brand new five-star luxury unit, the Steigenberger Hotel Palace Marhaba, is expected to open in the coastal city of Hammamet, according to director of operation, Tunisia Hospitality Group, Nidhal Bringi.

“The geographical position of Tunisia in the southern Mediterranean, with 1,300km of sandy shores, a warm Mediterranean climate in the summer and a mild climate in the winter, a rich heritage and eight UNESCO world heritage sites make this country one of the main destinations for European tourists in Africa,” Bringi told TTG. “All of these benefits are very important and are a good reason to develop the luxury tourism industry in Tunisia.”

BOUNCING BACK

Clearly, with all of these incredible hospitality developments in motion, Tunisia’s tourism industry is bouncing back, aiming to become better and more resilient than ever before. Thus, tourism movers and shakers are sharing their positive sentiments with the world, in order to make it clear that things have changed and spread a positive message.

“The attacks have weighed heavily on the country’s tourism sector, but after two barren years, there are signs that the industry is finally coming back to life, and this has been made clear with the return of British, Italian and Spanish holidaymakers,” said Bringi.

He explained to TTG that Tunisia recorded significant increases in 2017, with heightened tourist arrivals coming from Europe.

“The authorities note that the perspective is encouraging and are forecasting growth in 2018, especially with the return of British and Italian travellers,” he added.

Meanwhile, head of sales and contracting, Spring Travel Services, Rafik Meghirbi shared his opinion: “We are recovering very fast in Tunisia, and if the rhythm of bookings stays as it is, we should easily reach the good figures of 2010 – one of the best touristic seasons in Tunisia. All bans have been lifted from the main source markets, such as the Netherlands, the UK, Belgium and Scandinavian countries.”

Also offering his insight on the matter was Pezout, who said: “Tunisia’s tourism and hospitality industry has been through a challenging few years, and many efforts have been deployed by all here to bring the destination’s image closer to what it used to be. Of course, this is not the sort of undertaking that yields overnight results, but Tunisia is definitely on the right track. There is a breeze of careful optimism blowing over the country; the economy is starting to recover and we’re happy to be riding the winds of change here in Tunis.”

Pezout added that Tunisia is slowly but surely returning to the radars of most of its traditional feeder markets (France, Germany and the UK), but over the last few years, alternative markets have been explored.

He explained: “The reduction of activity from its traditional sources has pushed Tunisia to explore and further develop other visitor streams from markets with massive potential, such as China, India and Russia. This in turn, has brought the destination to the attention of potential investors from such countries, and it is certainly a good omen for business (including the business hospitality market) over the coming year, and hopefully beyond.”

In order to capitalise on all of this positivity, Bringi, Pezout and Meghirbi shared their plan of action for the year 2018.

Bringi highlighted that Tunisia Hospitality Group will be focusing on reinforcing its relationship with high-performing travel agents and tour operators, to further elevate the exposure and business of Deutsche Hospitality’s Tunisia properties.

“We obviously depend on the flight plans as well as the presence and potential of each tour operator. We estimate that market share in 2018 will include Russian and Eastern markets; French and German markets; Tunisian and Algerian markets; Belgian, Dutch and British markets; as well as the MICE and corporate segments,” he explained.

The properties will additionally be promoted at numerous fairs and exhibitions this year, according to Bringi, including ITB Berlin, MITT in Moscow, TOP RESA in Paris, the World Travel Market in London and many more.

As for the sparkling new Mövenpick Hotel du Lac Tunis, according to Pezout, 2018 will be an extremely busy year.

“Our aim is to position ourselves as the balanced option for wellbeing and healthy and tasty food, and be an inspiration for great meetings and events, with simplicity and generosity as our credo. Tunis offers excellent potential as a MICE destination. It is within two hours of most major European cities yet still off the beaten track, and offers a wealth of activities and business opportunities whilst being cost-efficient. This is one of the major aspects we will be focusing on this year,” he explained.

He further opined that with the increase in luxury hospitality options, quality and service levels will significantly rise, and thus, the property will need to stand out from its competitors, now more than ever.

Finally, Meghirbi of Spring Travel Services highlighted that the agent will be strongly focused on its traditional market, France, while simultaneously developing the fruitful German market and enticing business from the UK, the Netherlands and Belgium.

“We will continue to support the local market, which has a huge turnover,” he told TTG. “Two years ago, the local market was contributing 90 per cent of our turnover against 10 per cent from the European market. Last year was 30 per cent against 70 per cent, and 2018 will easily be 50 per cent each.”

With confidence being restored in Tunisia, the only way is up for this North African gem.