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Tourism : in 2008, 7 Million touristes, in 2009 better look to Asia !

Khalil Laajimi, Tunisian Minister of Tourism tunisien, granted, on Thursday, November 6th 2008 a communication at the Head Office of the Tunisian Agency for External Communication. This communication to which attended the representatives of the international media and foreign journalists, was for K. Laajimi, a good opportunity to give information on the the health of the tourism sector. Starting with a growth of 9.1% in annual incomes over the first nine months of 2008, Khlil Laajimi said he was « optimistic that we have been able to reach the psychological barrier of de 7 Million tourists over the whole year 2008, and equal our revenues in 2001 (the record year)». The income from tourism for the first nine months of 2008 stood at 2,53 BDT, against only 2,31 BDT over the same period in 2007, and the number of tourists increased by 3%, from 5,473 Million tourists over the first nine months of 2007, to 5.638 Million tourists over the same period in 2008. An important part of the Minister’s communication was devoted to the international financial crisis and its impact on the tourism sector. Khlili Laajimi did not hide his fears relating to a world economic recession, which will impact not only the Tunisian tourism but also world tourism.

Tourism, like other sectors, will be affected by the financial tsunami !  

The tourism sector, according to experts in the field, is among the sectors that will be affected by the international financial crisis. Up to 2007, the number of tourists in the world stands at 900 Million, which helped the sector to keep a stable growth rate at 5%. According to the forecasts of the World Tourism Organisation, the number of tourists in the world would reach 1 Billion and 50 Million by 2010, which will increase the number of jobs in the sector to 220 Million. The financial crisis calls, now for a review of the figures downward, less than 950 Million people throughout the world will afford the luxury of going on holiday in 2010. According to the Minister of Tourism, the year 2008 was the reconciliation year with the traditional markets in Tunisia. The German market, for example, which was from 2002 the weak point, registered a slight growth of 1%, in 2008, this market also decreased -4% in 2007. The Maghreb tourists (Libyan and Algerian) remain always leaders with 2 Million tourists, « we appreciate their presence, underlines the Minister, we are pleased to have them among us and we are planning to have better positioning in these two markets by facilitating entry procedures and services ». Two new welcome centres were built, the first on the frontier with Algeria and the second on the frontier with Libya in 2008. A new centre « Hezoua » in the South West of Tunisia, will be built to improve entry conditions for the visitors from the South of Algeria to Tunisia. The forecasts for the last three months of 2008 show that a progress of 4% on the number of entry could lead the number of tourists to increase to 7 Million, which will raise revenues of the sector to 3.36 BDT, a growth of 9.5% compared to 2007, and 43.6% compared to 2001. The Minister specified that taking the year 2001 as a record, results from the dinar value in that period, the value is currently not the same, neither are the circumstances.

Improvement of internal tourism, and a strategic survey by 2016 !

According to the Minister, Tunisia has been able to attract new clients and new markets. In this context, he mentions that « the market of Eat-European countries, contrary to what some may think, have a good purchasing power ». Answering the question relating to internal tourism, the Minister said with a little discomfort that internal tourism in Tunisia does not exceed 15% or even 10% of the vacancies. « The standard in tourism-oriented countries situates this rate between 35 and 40%, which is not the case in Tunisia». According to the Minister, the main reason for this low rate remains « the habit of Tunisian people who do not book 6 or 7 months in advance, contrary to Europeans», the Maghreb people do not book in advance either ! Besides the conclusion on the reservation issue, the Minister seems to be prepared to draw other lessons from the season 2008. A survey was carried out with a sample of 9.500 tourists (all nationalities included in all the exits) in order to improve the services offered and fill the lacks in Tunisian tourism. This poll will be approved by experts from the Mediterranean Organization of Statistics « Medsat » and the World Tourism Organisation. This will lead to serious measures like in 2008, when 19 hotels and two restaurants were closed, as well as the de-grading of 15 tourism restaurants and the decrease in the grade of 30 other restaurants. The results of this survey could be used as a road map for the strategic study of the sector by 2016, «a study to be undertaken by a famous international consultancy, and the results will be disclosed at the end of 2009 » underlines the Minister. If we overlook the issue of why not confiding the study to a national consultancy, or even in partnership with a foreign one, we can certainly not overlook the issue of the sector future in the horizon of a season where tourists and their currency seem difficult to attract.

Asia should be the solution, but… !

The season 2009 should in no case be limited to the traditional markets, neither to the period of the summer. It is the period with the highest entry numbers, while it lasts only 3 to 4 months in the year. « The growth margin remains interesting, says the Minister, we should then focus on diversifying the market products». According to the Minister there is an obvious need for spreading the season, which will undoubtedly help to promote new products, such as thalassotherapy, cultural tourism, congress as well as health tourism « we have also submitted a project of law for the creation of a new marina in Bizerta, with 1.000 cercles to park yachts coming from countries of the Northern shore of the Mediterranean, which has a shortage of 50.000 places». The Minister insisted on the need to attract tourists from far away countries, such as China and North America « these markets have a high potential, it is a market of about 2 Billion clients, the only lack is the absence of a direct air line with these destinations». These air lines do exist with Arab and Gulf countries, then the Minister adds exclaiming « we were very optimistic about the creation of these air line with the Gulf countries, but we discovered that it is the Tunisian people who use these flights as drop-overs for « business » in South East Asia» !!

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