British tourists eyeing return to Tunisia as UK restrictions scrapped

Approximately 425,000 Britons visited Tunisia in 2014 and similar figures are expected next year.

Bouncing back. A British traveller getting ready to board his flight for London at Tunis-Carthage International Airport. (AFP)

2017/07/30 Issue: 117 Page: 1

The Arab Weekly
Mahmud el-Shafey

London- “Honestly, we would have gone to Tuni­sia this summer if we had known,” said British holidaymaker Sara Hellier, one day before she and her family were to leave on her sum­mer holidays.

“The kids loved Hammamet last time and we would all love to go again but we’ve already booked our holidays to Spain.”

British officials changed their travel advice regarding Tunisia, announcing on July 26 that travel to the North African country was deemed safe. That, however, was too late for the Helliers this year.

The United Kingdom had advised against all but essential visits to Tunisia in June 2015 following the Sousse beach attack in which 38 people, including 30 British holiday­makers, were killed by an Islamic State (ISIS) gunman.

The terrorist attack and the ensu­ing travel restrictions devastated Tunisia’s tourism sector, a major hard currency earner.

“This update reflects our latest assessment that the risk to British nationals in Tunisia has changed,” Alistair Burt, minister for the Middle East and North Africa, said. “This is in part due to the security improve­ments that the Tunisian authori­ties and tourist industry have made since the tragic terrorist attacks in 2015, with support from the UK and international partners.”

The change of travel advice means “travel companies can put in place plans for holidays to Tunisia to re­start, should they wish to do so,” said Britain’s Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators (ABTA).

Tour operators were caught una­wares about the change and most Britons have already booked their summer holidays for this year.

Thomas Cook said the tour opera­tor was “pleased” about the travel advisory change but that it would take time to organise future offer­ings.

“I suppose that we are going to start during the winter season but more towards the spring,” Thomas Cook CEO Peter Fankhauser said.

Smaller specialist tour companies are likely to secure deals with air­lines and hotels for British tourists wishing to visit Tunisia in the next few months. Just Sunshine, a lead­ing Tunisian specialist operator, said it hoped to have holidays on sale by the first week of August.

The Tunisian National Tourist Of­fice said about 12,000 British travel­lers had visited the country in 2017. Approximately 425,000 Britons went to Tunisia in 2014, with similar figures expected next year.

“We will be communicating with all of our tour operators to see how quickly we can get airlift reinstat­ed. Meanwhile, Tunis Air [is] flying daily from London Heathrow and Gatwick to Tunis,” said Mounira Ben Cherifa, director of the Tunisian Na­tional Tourist Office in the United Kingdom.

Mahmud el-Shafey is an Arab Weekly correspondent in London.

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