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Tunisia: the endless purgatory of travel agencies

It’s been almost two years now that the world has been living under the sway of the coronavirus pandemic, which has unfolded in wave after wave of hundreds of thousands of deaths and millions of cases of infection, all set against unprecedented economic and social devastation.

Employees have been laid off and others have been put on short-time work or partial unemployment, companies have closed down with all the consequences that follow.

All sectors have been affected, but tourism is, in fact, the most hit. In a statement to AfricanManager, Jabeur Ben Attouch, President of the Tunisian Federation of Travel Agencies (F TAV), has again confirmed that the pandemic has seriously damaged the tourism business and especially air, sea and land transport because of the closure of borders and successive confinements.

“The impact was disastrous with a total halt to tourist transport activities in 2020 and almost total in 2021,” he said.

Bankruptcies following the closure of the Umrah

All stakeholders in the sector have been affected, especially travel agencies knowing that they do not have only one activity but several such as air and sea transport, land transport, outbound (travel of Tunisians abroad), incoming (reception of tourists), travel ‘Umrah’, tours and excursions and medical tourism … etc.

Air travel has been affected to 90% and 70% in 2020 and 2021 respectively, compared to the reference year 2019, according to the FTAV.

Above all, travel under Umrah has experienced a total halt from the beginning of the pandemic until today, generating many adverse consequences.

“23 travel agencies are threatened with bankruptcy following the cancellation of trips to the Holy Places knowing that they are groups of travel agencies … “, says Ben Attouch.

In terms of figures, the amount of losses following the cancellation of Umrah trips amounts to 3 million 47 Thousand dinars for 3,180 potential travelers of Umrah or pilgrims, noting that the airfare of Umrah in Charter is around 1300 dinars per person.

Solutions through FODECT

Solutions must be found to help travel agencies honor their debts. Only the Competitiveness Development Fund (FODECT) can compensate for these losses, because neither the travelers nor the airlines have the capacity or the means to face them.

In fact, the money has already been spent without any compensation, the airplane charge has been accounted for, while the travel agency has paid the airline and the pilgrim has not benefited from his ‘Umrah’, says the president of the federation.

“Neither the traveler nor the travel agency had asked to cancel these flights, so it is unfair that they assume a fault that is not theirs!

“The problem has continued since March 8, 2020. We have not stopped meeting, since that date, with all stakeholders namely, the Ministry of Transport, and those of Tourism, and Foreign Affairs to consider these flights as evacuation flights, “he said.

Finally, the FTAV exposed this problem to the FODECT for compensation of these losses suffered by travel agencies so that they can in turn reimburse the pilgrims of the Charter flights of Umrah that were cancelled.

“I remember a certain February 26, 2020, when the travelers were in the boarding room and the plane was at the airport of Djerba, we received, suddenly, at midnight a decision from Saudi Arabia decreeing the cessation of all flights.

So, the pilgrims turned back and the plane flew empty to bring back the other travelers who were in Saudi Arabia, “said the president of the FTAV.

“Until now, we hope to find a solution through FODECT. Moreover, we have just sent a request to the Ministry of Tourism to expose this problem to the FODECT, knowing that this fund is not financed by the state but share professionals of the tourism sector like the owners of restaurants and cafes, “says Ben Attouch.

It’s been two years now that the fund does not contribute to development, since all activities have been stopped, according to him.

In addition, the FTAV has conducted a study and prepared a file, since March 2020, for the Ministry of Transport as well as for the Ministry of Tourism.

The request for FODECT to intervene has been filed for several months and still no response.

“This is a case of force majeure, we are in exceptional circumstances, so we must take exceptional measures!” he said in conclusion.


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