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Tourists rediscover Tunisia after revolution

Still few Italians but minister announces new plans

25 April, 17:16

    A view of Tunis (photo by Linda Pietropaoli) A view of Tunis (photo by Linda Pietropaoli)

    (ANSAmed) - TUNIS  - The casino of Hammamet is still closed but the cleanup of the luxurious hotels on the city's promenade, the centre of nightlife and recreation of the north-African country, is in progress. Foreign visitors are returning to Tunisia after the Jasmine Revolution. The year 2011 was a nightmare for the tourism sector that employs 25% of the country's population (generating 11% of GDP) and for allied industries. Since the spring of 2012 groups of Japanese tourists can be seen photographing the remains of Carthage on the Gulf of Tunis again. Groups of French tourists are visiting the Great Mosque of Kerouan again. The mosque is 1300 years old and is the first and oldest in the whole of Africa. Other North Europeans, also families with children, are enjoying the shoreline of Hammamet or drinking cocktails among the white houses with blue doors and windows in the art village of Sidi Bou Said near the capital.

    But the Italians still have not returned. Before the Revolution, in 2010, around 350 thousand Italians spent their holidays in Tunisia. Last year, this number plunged to 120 thousand. ''We have felt the impact of several factors,'' Tunisia's Minister for Tourism Elyes Fakhfakh told a group of Italian reporters in a press conference. Not only the effect of the Arab Spring, but also the civil war that broke out in the neighbouring Libya. For the Italian market in particular, the images of migrants landing in Lampedusa and the surrounding negative publicity did not help Tunisia reassure its economic and commercial partners. ''But now the situation is much better, we are looking at the future with confidence. We hope that we will soon reach the number of Italian tourists of 2010 again, or even more,'' the minister continued. Meanwhile, Tunisian Tourism Ministry is diversifying the tourism market: not only sea and low prices, but also culture, archaeological sites, history and desert adventures. ''In June we will sign a new contract with Italy to make the most of our cultural and archaeological heritage,'' the minister explained.

    ''Sixty percent of archaeological sites require work and we are counting on Italy's help and experience,'' the minister concluded. The head of Tunisair, Habib Ben Slama, told ANSAmed that the frequency of direct flights between Italy and Tunisia will soon be increased, and that direct connections between several Italian cities and the island of Djerba and the oasis of Tozeur in the desert will be opened this winter. ''We are counting on an increase in demand,'' he added. ''All is calm'' is the message repeated by all ministers, common people, shopkeepers and imams. Of course, there are still tanks in Avenue Bourghiba in Tunis, but foreign visitors do not notice any particular tensions or an atmosphere of fundamentalism.

    ''There are not many Salafis, a few thousand in total. The real problem is the economic crisis and unemployment. We need time and international assistance,'' said Lassad, 51 years old, owner of an antique shop in the capital's medina. ''The beginning, as is true for all revolutions, was hard, that's the price of freedom, but we are recovering slowly. Now you can come back without any problems. Ben Ali is no longer here, but the people of Tunisia are ready to welcome you,'' said Mahmoud, who works in a sweet shop and offers green tea and chocolate-honey biscuits to people passing by. (ANSAmed).

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