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Tunisia: UNWTO SG predicts tourism rebound in 2012

Secretary General of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Taleb Rifai said he predicts a rebound in Tunisia’s tourism this year to 2010 levels.

“Tourism won’t defy all the realities on the ground, specifically political realities, but we believe 2012 will see the resumption of tourism trends as they were in 2010,” Rifai told Bloomberg by telephone from Berlin, where he will present the UNWTO’s report on 2011 tourism trends and figures on March 8.

Tourism in Tunisia plunged more than 30 percent last year amid the popular upheavals sweeping the Arab world, said Refai.

Arrivals dropped 30.7 percent for the full year in Tunisia, according to Rifai. Still, that’s a “remarkable” improvement given that tourism tumbled about 80 percent after the unrest began in the first months of 2011, he said.

The Arab Spring took a toll on tourism in cash-strapped nations in the Middle East and North Africa, costing the region more than $7 billion, according to the Arab Tourism Organization in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (SABIC).

The number of visitors to North Africa and the Middle East dropped 12 percent and 8 percent last year, the Madrid-based UNWTO said.

Tourism is the world’s third-largest industry, providing one in every 12 jobs, according to Rifai.

Tourism accounts for 17 percent of GDP in Tunisia and more than 15 percent of jobs, the London- based World Travel & Tourism Council said.

Tunisia’s summer high season will be a “very important test,” Rifai said. Tunisia “is making a tremendous effort” to rebuild the industry, he said.

“Things won’t settle down soon but they must keep working on the new source market destinations and the newcomers of the world of tourism,” Rifai said. “This is a tsunami of changes, and they will take time.”

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