The President of the Tunisian Federation of Travel Agencies (FTAV), Mohamed Ali Toumi gave Africanmanager an interview in which he acknowledged that the first half of this year in terms of tourist arrivals was bad and so is the month of July, stressing in the same vein that nobody can claim to have a magic wand to solve the problems of the moment including those related to terrorism.
Mohamed Ali Toumi also spoke of the difficulties faced by travel agencies in the south-western region where the border areas with Algeria were declared red areas by Western governments and not advised for tourists.
What is the current situation of the Tunisian tourism sector?
The latest official figures confirm our fears: the first half of the year was bad and so is July. There was a time when the months of July and August were full in Tunisia and, to get a hotel room, it was the obstacle course. At this time of the year, our travel agencies used to run at full capacity. Currently, it is sad to see that some of our buses and our 4X4 are in the garage.
The reasons for this situation, you know: they are the very serious security problems that are totally incompatible with the tourism industry. There is also the environmental problem that affects all regions, but even more the island of Djerba which offers a sad spectacle in terms of garbage and refuse.
And we must also recognize that tourists complain of a decline in the quality of services from year to year. Ramadan also on impacted tourist arrivals, including those of Algerians and Libyans along with Tunisian overnight stays in hotels.
However, we hope a good recovery in August, but it will not be enough to compensate for the shortfall recorded by the Tunisian tourism this year and the previous three years.
What are the current difficulties of travel agencies and the sector in general?
Our main concern is the situation of travel agencies in the south-western region. As you know, the border areas with Algeria were declared red areas by Western governments and not recommended for tourists. This is a huge blow to those who rely on tourism in this region. These are whole families who can no longer rely on this resource which is tourism.
The financial situation of travel agencies is, for many, dramatic. In the supplementary finance bill currently being debated at the NCA, it is stipulated that the state will cover the arrears due by travel agencies in the Governorates of Tozeur and Kebili to the CNSS in the 1999-2008 period. This obviously does not solve all problems but will ease the pressure on companies that benefit from this decision. I sincerely hope that the project will be voted because agencies in this region really need support to face the tourism crisis in the region.
MICE agencies specializing in conference tourism and inventive are also in a precarious situation because European companies are increasingly reluctant to choose Tunisia for their events. There was a time when the South was their preferred destination. Things have changed, and that is why we call on our members at each of our meetings to evolve, advance their profession and use new technologies to diversify their activities in order to overcome the current pitfalls.
You have rejected the idea of an asset management company, what are your suggestions then?
We are not against the idea of creating an asset management company but we are against the way in which it was proposed. We are also on the same wavelength with our colleagues from the Tunisian Federation of Hospitality on this subject although travel agents are less concerned (in number) than hotels. That said, it is disturbing to find that this project gives the asset management company full powers. Imagine it has the discretion to confiscate a business without its owner has legal recourse. In other words, the asset management company exceeds the power of justice, which is simply unconstitutional.
How do you rate the performance of Amel Karboul?
Mrs. Karboul received a few days ago the new board of FTAV who was elected in early July. We explained to her the problems of the sector in detail. She was very attentive to our concerns which are closely related to those of her department. We have submitted a number of requests and recommendations that could have a positive impact on the whole Tunisian tourism. I would not presume to judge the person as such, she enjoys the confidence of the head of government, but everyone also knows that under the conditions prevailing in our country, her task is extremely difficult. We can not require a department to redress the balance of a sector when it is linked to other external parameters. Nobody has a magic wand to solve the current problems, including terrorism.
What impact would the recent terrorist attack have on tourism?
First, and on behalf of the FTAV and all its members, we bow to the memory of our brave soldiers who fell defending the homeland. We denounce vehemently this cowardly and barbarian act. Tourism and terrorism are incompatible. We can not claim to be a leading tourist destination as we have not eradicated this scourge. It is the responsibility of not only the government but also civil society, business organizations like ours and even that of ordinary citizens. Nevertheless we remain optimistic because we believe that Tunisia will always be a land of tolerance. I hope that this is a bad time that the country will go beyond and I have full confidence in our country and our people.