Econostrum | Economic News in the Mediterranean

USAID releases $50m to boost tourism in marginalized regions of Tunisia

Written by Frédéric Dubessy on Thursday, February 3rd 2022 à 16:40 | Read 525 times

Mohamed Moez Belhassine, Tunisian Minister of Tourism and Handicrafts, launched the "Visit Tunisia" programme in Sbeïtla (photo: Tunisian Ministry of Tourism and Handicrafts)
Mohamed Moez Belhassine, Tunisian Minister of Tourism and Handicrafts, launched the "Visit Tunisia" programme in Sbeïtla (photo: Tunisian Ministry of Tourism and Handicrafts)
UNISIA / UNITED STATES. Another piece of good news for Tunisian tourism after the announcement, on Monday 31 January 2022, of the return of the cruises to the port of La Goulette. The American Agency for International Development (USAID) is going to grant 50 M$ (44.27 M€) to finance the new "Visit Tunisia" project intended to (re)launch this sector in the marginalised regions of the country. Its official presentation took place symbolically on the archaeological site of Sbeïtla in the governorate of Kasserine (central-western Tunisia) on Wednesday 2 February 2022, in the presence of Donald Blome, the American ambassador to Tunis, and Mohamed Moez Belhassine, the Tunisian Minister of Tourism and Crafts.

A five-year programme, "Visit Tunisia" will be based on public-private partnerships and the use of digital innovation solutions to "capitalise on the country's unique natural, cultural and historical assets", as Donald Blome points out. The project aims to create 15,000 new jobs in the alternative tourism sector and provide extensive support to small tourism businesses in previously underserved areas.

Extending the season throughout the year

Since the very end of the 1950s and the strong involvement of the Tunisian State in the construction of infrastructures through the Société hôtelière du tourisme tunisien (SHTT founded in 1959), the development of tourism in Tunisia has concerned almost exclusively the family seaside resort with the creation of seven coastal tourist zones* all of which have a tourist development plan. Left out of these projects, the interior of the country (with the exception of Tozeur and Nafta supplied by tourists from Djerba) quickly found itself left out of these flows, creating the economic and social gap which generated the 2011 revolution.

The objective of "Visit Tunisia" is therefore to "design and promote experience-based tourism activities beyond the coast, with the aim of attracting new international tourists to areas of Tunisia that are often neglected", as stated in a press release from the American Embassy in Tunisia. This should also make it possible to extend the tourist season, which is currently very concentrated on the summer, throughout the year. The expansion of the tourist offer could result in "an increase in the number of tour operators selling Tunisia as a destination, and an increase in visitor spending of 20%" according to Donald Blome.

The local strategies deployed will incorporate the perspectives of women and youth in its regions as well as support for small businesses.

The United States has already helped with investments to restore the historic sites of Oudhna (330,000 dinars) in June 2019, and El Jem (1.1 million dinars) in November 2019.

Tunisia aims at 11.5 million tourists in 2026

According to the Central Bank of Tunisia (BCT), tourist receipts in Tunisia reached 91.5 million dinars (28.17 M€) during the first twenty days of the year 2022, against 73.4 million dinars (22.6 M€) during the same period in 2021. An improvement therefore with an increase of 24.6% which follows a slight improvement in tourism indicators during the year 2021 (mainly due to domestic tourism) compared to the year 2020, but which still does not satisfy Mohamed Moez Belhassine. "We are still far from the results achieved in 2019," the minister stresses. In 2022, he wants to reach 50% of the achievements of 2019 for a return to a usual rhythm in 2023 and 2024. The Tunisian Ministry of Tourism has set itself the goal of welcoming nearly 5.7 million tourists in 2022 for revenues estimated at at least 3.5 billion dinars (€1.08 billion). Once fully implemented, "Visit Tunisia" could reach 11.5 million by 2016.

In June 2019, according to a KPMG study, the tourism sector represented 389,000 jobs (of which 100,000 direct), i.e. 9.4% of the active population and 11.14% of the employed population. In 2018, it brought in 13.8% of Tunisian GDP (14.2% forecast in 2020 according to this survey). Revenues in 2021 did not exceed 2.1 billion dinars against more than 5 billion in 2019.

On Wednesday 2 February 2022, Dorra Miled, president of the Tunisian Federation of the Hotel Industry (FTH) sounded the alarm once again during an intervention on the Tunisian radio Express FM, describing her sector as "stricken". The number of overnight stays has decreased by 80% compared to 2019. Dorra Milled called for urgent measures on the part of the government for an increased return of international tourists next summer.

Tourism in Tunisia has been in crisis since the 2000s. It has suffered the aftermath of 9/11, the Djerba bombing in April 2002, the January 2011 revolution and the political instability that followed, and the 2015 terrorist attacks in Tunis and Sousse. Covid-19 has brutally reinforced this disaffection with, in 2020, a 78% drop in arrivals, a 64% drop in revenue and 80.5% of overnight stays. This sector also and above all suffers from a lack of adaptation to the new expectations of international tourists with its infrastructures designed for mass tourism.

*Tunis-North, Tunis-South, Hammamet-Nabeul, Sousse-North, Skanes Monastir, Djerba, Zarzis

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