Sarah Schwepcke, GIZ Head of Project in Tunisia, talks in this interview about hygiene measures, the new reality of travel in the post-coronavirus era and activities to help the tourism industry in Tunisia.
Tunisia’s tourism economy was booming and full of hope. Has the coronavirus now destroyed all progress?
The industry has been hit hard here in Tunisia. In view of the crisis, the government expects the sector to lose €1.4 billion, or about three-quarters of total turnover in 2019.
According to estimates by the Tunisian Hotel Association, only ten per cent of last year’s nine million visitors are expected to remain.
The government fears the loss of up to 400,000 jobs…
Yes, the scope is considerable. This crisis affects everyone: hoteliers, tour operators, restaurants, guides. The situation is particularly dramatic for all those who derive their income indirectly from tourism, for example, taxi drivers or souvenir sellers. And unfortunately, for Tunisia the possibilities of compensating for this shock by local tourism are very limited.
Nevertheless, German Development Minister Gerd Müller believes that it is possible for Germans to spend their summer holidays in Tunisia while maintaining high standards of hygiene. What might this look like?
The rapid control measures and the positive development of COVID-19 infections put Tunisia in a relatively good starting position so far when it comes to reopening the country to tourists.
As soon as the borders reopen and people start travelling again, Tunisia’s tourism industry should have seized the opportunity to be ready to welcome tourists. Extensive hygiene measures are necessary to make a safe holiday possible.
What do these measures actually look like?
The Ministry of Tourism, with the participation of the private sector, has developed a health protocol that meets international standards, particularly those of the EU. It has recently been published and will be mandatory for the whole sector.
These new regulations, which always imply investments, are certainly all the more painful as customers and revenues are lacking.
What exactly are you and GIZ doing to support the tourism sector at the moment?
Now that the protocol has been published, the aim is to support the tourism industry on this difficult but important path, for example, in the preparation of teaching materials and the implementation of training courses to ensure that businesses adapt their activities to the new health requirements.
We are also working with the Ministry of Tourism on a communication campaign with the label “Tunisia is #Ready-and-safe”.
It aims to inform the general public that Tunisia has taken all possible measures to adapt to the new challenges. The aim is to increase tourist confidence and send a signal – Tunisia is ready and safe!
How does the Tunisian tourism industry compare to other international destinations in the wake of the coronavirus crisis?
It is a global crisis. 100% of the world’s destinations have imposed total or partial travel restrictions. And tourism – with the exception of a few niches – cannot be digitized.
The growth of Tunisian tourism in recent years has come mainly from three regions: Western Europe, Russia and Algeria. This growth is now at a standstill. In addition, there will probably be a change in the way people travel.
What will the “post-coronavirus” tourism look like?
No one can say for sure. But one thing is clear: customers and their travel habits will change. The general economic situation will have an impact on many customers who will spend less and reduce the frequency of their trips.
This could give a new impetus to traditional package holidays, because in the form of a complete package, they are often cheaper than planning your own holiday.
On the other hand, I assume that a holiday experience where many people are together in close quarters will be less in demand.
The concept of mass tourism is up for debate in the face of the virus. Do tourists still want that? What needs to be done to make guests feel safe? Isn’t the demand rather for an individual holiday experience “off the beaten track”, in a sustainable and personalized way with flexible booking possibilities?
What does this mean for Tunisia?
The strategic transformation of Tunisia as a destination is now more important than ever. Given the expected changes in travel behavior, Tunisia must develop a diversified and competitive offer. The potential is enormous – the country has so much to offer.
The enormous cultural and natural wealth must finally be made accessible to visitors and put on the market.
The potential of cultural tourism in particular is enormous thanks to the country’s unique history: Berbers, Carthaginians, Romans, Andalusian, Independence and now reinvention as a young democracy.
All this has left fascinating traces waiting to be discovered. The landscape perfectly underlines this diversity.
The beautiful sandy beaches are well known, and from the desert to the mountains to the endless olive groves – there is a lot to offer, especially for tourists who like to be active
And thanks to the mild climate, there is a lot to see and do well beyond the summer months.
In short: times are tough, but I always look forward to the future with confidence.