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Tunisians hope for tourism revival after revolt

Tunisians hope for tourism revival after revolt

Mega-hotels shuttered, vacant in seaside town; Tunisians hopeful for tourism rebound, stability; 400,000 jobs at stake, country suffering from unemployment.

February 21, 2011 2:28 by

Inside the walls of the medina market, a top draw in Tunisia’s Hammamet seaside resort, Hafedh Alouini arranges his shop in hopes of a customer.

“I haven’t made a sale in nearly three weeks,” he says, as a handful of other souk sellers lean against the stone walls of the medina, smoking cigarettes and soaking up sun. “There are no tourists. We’re just waiting.”

Tunisia’s tourism industry, the North African country’s top foreign currency earner, has ground to a halt since a popular uprising last month forced President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali to flee and touched off further revolts through the Arab world.

Thousands of tourists were evacuated from resort towns as protests reached a head, gutting the tourism sector by 40 percent in January and leading the government to launch an advertising campaign to draw people back, dubbed, “I love Tunisia, the place to be…now!”

The dropoff is no small problem for Tunisia — long a darling vacation destination thanks to its 875 miles (1,410 km) of Mediterranean coastline, its ancient Roman architecture and vast stretches of picturesque desert.

Tourism employs roughly 400,000 of the country’s 10 million people, and brought in nearly $2.5 billion in receipts last year — more than 6 percent of its gross national product.

Now, as Tunisia struggles to find its footing — with sporadic demonstrations choking the capital and the interim government wrestling with a surge in crime — the question Tunisians are asking is, “Will they return?”

Tunisia’s peak tourist months run from April to July.

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