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After Bardo, what is in store for Tunisia tourism?
Posted on 22/03/2015


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TUNISIA: After a terrorist attack claims over 20 lives at Tunisia's Bardo Museum, what is the future of tourism in a country that depends so heavily on the industry?

On Wednesday March 18, two gunmen opened fire in the Bardo Museum, one of the most precious relics of the Tunisian capital Tunis. When the subsequent seige was over, some 21 lay dead, foreigners and two Tunisians. Among them were British, French, Italian, Japanese, Polish and Australian.

An uncertain future

An uncertain future
Francisco Lozano Alcobendas / 123RF

In the aftermath of the attacks, a number of cruise ship operators, such as Costa and MSC - who had numerous passengers caught up in the attack - announced that they would not be stopping in Tunisia on future cruises. The British travel association ABTA, meanwhile, cancelled expeditions to Tunis for those already in Tunisia.

One in ten of the population of Tunisia relies on tourism, and - with the instability that has engulfed its neighbours appearing to be knocking on Tunisia's door - the future of this economic base appears to be very much in the balance. David Scowsill, CEO of World Travel and Tourism, explained: "Travel and tourism contributes over 15% of the GDP of Tunisia and almost 14% of all jobs; so it is a vitally important part of the economy of the country."

Je Suis Tunisien

However, numerous groups took to social media to express solidarity with the victims of the attack and pledge their commitment to travel to Tunisia. Inspired by the response to January's attacks in Paris, France, social media users posted messages with the hastags "#JeSuisBardo" and "#JeSuisTunisien".

"Much will depend, in the coming weeks, whether this turns out to be an isolated incident or the start of a worrying new area of terrorism," explained AITO chairman Derek Moore to Travel Mole. "If this is the first of several incidents tourism will suffer drastically as happened in Syria and Egypt; if it is a one-off then the public tend to have short memories."

A difficult history

It is important to remember, however, that tourism in Tunisia has never been a simple matter. The historic "stability" that allowed it to develop a thriving industry for European tourists - something that war in neighbouring Algeria, for example, prevented - was largely the product of the oppressive and dictatorial regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who ensured by often unsavoury means that visitors and investors could be happy.

Indeed, Ben Ali was the first dictator to be toppled in the fabled "Arab Spring" in 2011. However, as with neighbours such as Libya and Egypt, the optimism of the popular revolution was met with tension between factions of Islamists and the military - which, with Wednesday's attack, threatens to boil over into something worse.


Tunis tours cancelled after museum attack
Terror attack at Tunis' Bardo Museum