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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.

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February 21, 2011 2:28 by



PRICE OF FREEDOM

The government is hopeful, and says charter flights from Europe started to resume over the weekend to the scenic town of Bizerte, just across the Mediterranean from Sicily and Sardinia.

Earlier this month, Tourism Minister Mehdi Houass said the popular overthrow of Ben Ali was “a good promotion” that could turn out being good for the sector.

“The revolution has made our country known to the whole world,” he said. “We want to tell all our friends that they can come to Tunisia in a atmosphere of peace (and) freedom.”

But ongoing demonstrations and worries about rising religious tension could be a setback, as could violence unfolding elsewhere in the Arab world, including in neighbouring Libya where scores of people have been shot dead.

“Security is everything,” said Kate Davis, director of the Saphir Palace hotel in Hammamet — one of more than a dozen a giant whitewashed hotel buildings on the edge of the sea, but among just a few still operating.

“For people who are not here to see that it is calm and beautiful, the news about what is going on around the Arab world may be discouraging,” she said. “On the other hand, I’m very optimistic that tourism will return in the coming months.”

At the nearby Chich Khan hotel, another hotel owned by IBEROSTAR that has decided to keep its doors open in Hammamet, German tourist Susie Voege was checking in with her husband.

“The security is fine, and we have this place to ourselves,” she said. Dozens of other hotels stand empty.

In an analysts’ call on North Africa in late January, Fitch Ratings cut its 2011 growth forecast for Tunisia to 2 percent from 5 percent, saying tourism would be the sector hardest hit by the political unrest.

But it added that the economy could rebound next year if elections to replace Ben Ali pass smoothly. The interim government is expected to schedule a vote in July or August.

For Alouini, in the medina market, that sounds good.

“For now, we’re putting food on the table in whatever way we can,” he said. “We have won our freedom, and there is no price you can put on that.”

(By Richard Valdmanis)



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