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Tunisia: Tunisia Tourism Profile


It may be but a slim wedge of North Africa’s vast horizontal expanse, but Tunisia has enough history and diverse natural beauty to pack a country many times its size. With a balmy, sand-fringed Mediterranean coast, scented with jasmine and sea breezes, and where the fish on your plate is always fresh, Tunisia is prime territory for a straightforward sun-sand-and-sea holiday. But beyond the beaches, it’s a thrilling, underrated destination where distinct cultures and incredible extremes of landscape can be explored in just a few days. Tunis is refashioning itself as an ambitiously modern Arab capital, though both its long Ottoman and not-so-distant colonial past still have a powerful, palpable presence. In the north, lakes teem with pink flamingos, surprising deep-green forests rise up from the coast, and gently rolling plains are dotted with olive and citrus trees. To the south, the ever-enchanting sands of the Sahara stretch deep into Africa and the traditions of the indigenous Berbers persevere.

Tourism plays a huge part in the economy but Tunisians are surprised, and charmed, by independent travellers. Although around 7 million tourists arrive each year, unless you’re holed up in an all-inclusive hotel in Hammamet, Sousse or Jerba in July, you’re probably going to wonder where the 6,999,995 or so others are. While there’s precious little that caters specifically for those staying outside resorts, that doesn’t mean that travel isn’t easy here.

You’ll discover atmospheric hotels that are pure colonial swansongs, cafes and restaurants where you can gorge on Maghrebi favourites, plates of homemade pasta or perfect pastries for a fraction of the price of those in Italy or France, and often have the unbeatable historical thrill of kicking around a stunning ancient site with just you and the ghosts. The country’s public transport is cheap and reliable. Plus there are new breeds of hoteliers, restaurateurs and shopkeepers who have taken their cues from the high-end offerings of Morocco and are creating an increasing number of stylish, atmospheric alternatives to the chain monoliths and tourist souqs – but in true Tunisian style they’re both a tad more laid-back and more affordable. North Africa’s most relaxed and hospitable country just might turn out to be its most interesting.


Tourism, a driver of services in Tunisia

Despite a difficult year led by the tough economic crisis, the tourism industry performed well in 2008 as arrivals increase outpaced that of 2007 and confirmed its leading position in the country. Tourism is a key service category in Tunisia as it employs 13% of its active people and contributes to 8% of GDP. Inbound receipts sustained its positive increase trend confirming the solid positioning of Tunisia as a destination amongst European and Arab tourists and years of communication and marketing to these potential markets. 2009 and 2010 however are expected to be difficult but marketing campaigns led by the tourism office and product diversification should lighten the negative impact of the crisis.

Tunisia reinforces a quality approach to conquer new markets

2008 was marked by the continuous efforts of tourism authorities to adhere to international standards in hotel rankings and management. The seriousness to achieve objectives of this program has resulted in additional than 18,000 procedures which triggered a lot of changes and down rankings of hotels and restaurants. Tunisia as well sustained efforts to diversify and broaden its visitor base and tourism product by opening up to new markets such as China, Middle East and the US. Tunisia is shifting smoothly from an old brand image as a cheap sun and sea destination to a additional differentiated experience offering cultural, sports and health and wellness. Efforts in 2008 concentrated on niche areas such as medical, Thalasso therapy, plastic surgeries, health tourism, and eco-tourism. However, these efforts need to be sustained over the mid to long term period to change customer perception about Tunisia.

Domestic tourism, still a long way to go

In 2008, over 2 million Tunisians travelled abroad. The Tunisia national tourism office (ONTT) is aware of the potential of this segment for domestic tourism and is working toward providing additional local offers to attract Tunisians travelling for leisure. Tunisians however complained about the high prices of hotels and the unavailability of rooms during high season such as summer holidays. With an increasing purchase power of Tunisians, ONTT has set special promotions for locals, especially during the low season, to boost request. In parallel, it as well created a central booking platform for domestic tourism which involved additional than 260 travel agents in the distribution of the offers across the country. In 2008, increase in number of domestic trips outpaced that of 2007 and the ONTT is expected to sustain efforts to encourage additional Tunisians to discover their own country.

Distribution channels limit hotels profitability

Travel distribution channels in Tunisia are dominated by European tour operators. The major players showed historical dominance of European tour operators such Neckerman, TUI and ITS in terms of overnight stays in defining prices and Tunisia’s brand image. Tunisia as a destination is commonly sold as a cheap full board package. Recent consolidations between European travel wholesalers allowed them to apply competitive prices due to their size as a result of which they were able to put pressure on hotels to lower rates which are advantageous for them but not profitable for the Tunisian hotels. The fragmentation of travel accommodation in Tunisia, at 962 outlets with few coalitions and cooperatives, weakens the bargaining power of hotels and impacts negatively on profitability. This trend continued into 2008 where Tunisia holiday packages are the cheapest in the whole of North Africa.

Great potential in medical and health tourism

In the African continent, Tunisia is ranked second after South Africa in medical and health tourism, and far leading in North Africa. Government and tourism professionals are aware of this strong chance and are working together to develop this affluent category. President Ben Ali announced in December 2008 a special strategic plan aiming to transform Tunisia into a hub for medical and health tourism by 2016. The plan would include building of infrastructure inclunding development of the corresponding services. Health tourism is the majority lucrative tourism niche in Tunisia.
With its 1,300 km of coastline, its vestiges from 3,000 years of civilisation, a landscape ranging from northern forests to southern desert and oases, making Tunisia a choice tourist destination.
Thanks to an extensive and diversified tourism base (Saharan tourism, beach holidays, cultural sites, convention centre, yachting, golf and spa activities…), Tunisia has enjoyed an increase in numbers of tourists (some 5 million tourists a year) making it the number tourist destination on the southern rim of the Mediterranean.
Diversification of the offer was further consolidated by an increasingly developed tourism infrastructure. In fact, Tunisia has 800 hotel units of various categories, about 351 tourist restaurants marinas for in 1500 quay berths and new ports under construction, a large number of entertainment parks and eight golf courses spread in amount tourist areas of the country.

Tunisia is the second seawater spa destination in the world

Spas have as well followed a spectacular increase path, with facilities in Sousse, Hammamet, Jerba, Gammarth, and Zarzis using the majority stringent international standards.