TUNIS: Tunisia's tourism revenues, a key earner for the Arab country which were hammered by last year's political turmoil, jumped 36 percent in the first quarter of 2012 compared with the same period in 2011, the government said on Friday.
Tourism receipts reached 1.15 billion dinars (around 575 million euros) during the first three months of this year, tourism minister Elyes Fakhfakh announced, cited by the official TAP news agency.
The number of overnight stays during this period surged by 74 percent to 11 million, according to the same source. But they still remained 20 percent lower than in the first quarter of 2010.
Revenues, meanwhile, were down 13 to 15 percent compared with the first quarter of 2010, the year of reference, according to Habib Ammar, the director of Tunisia's national tourism office, ONTT
"Our objective is to recover the figures of 2010 in 2013... It's impossible to come back in just one year, after the catastrophic year of 2011," he told AFP.
The latest figures confirm the recovery of one of Tunisia's most important industries, after official data released in April indicated a rise in tourist arrivals in the first quarter of 52.8 percent.
The number of tourists visiting Tunisia in the first six months of 2012 was also up, by 41 percent compared with the first half of last year, to 2.4 million, and the minister said expectations for the summer were satisfactory.
Reservation rates for July are forecast at 85 percent, falling to 68 percent in August and 60 percent in September.
The French contribute by the far the most to Tunisia's tourism industry, accounting for 8.7 million overnight stays in 2010, followed by the Germans with 5.3 million overnight stays, according to the ONTT.
"There is still a reluctance" among French tourists to visit Tunisia, said Ammar.
He blamed two main factors, namely the ongoing economic difficulties facing French tour operators and the extensive French media coverage of the turbulent events in Tunisia.
Tourism represents seven percent of Tunisia's GDP, employing 400,000 people directly or indirectly, but the sector foundered in the wake of the mass uprising that toppled the regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011.
The number of tourists visiting Tunisia that year fell to 4.8 million in 2011, compared with nearly seven million in 2010, while revenues were down by 33 percent.
The ministry hopes to see annual tourist arrivals topping the pre-uprising levels in 2013.