TUNIS: Tunisia expects a record high 7 million tourists to visit this year as the country that inspired the Arab Spring revolts enjoys political stability for the first time since the uprising three years ago, the tourism minister said.
After a crisis last year brought on by the killing of two opposition leaders, Tunisia has adopted a new constitution and a ruling Islamist party has stepped down to allow a caretaker government to take over until elections later this year.
Tunisia’s new charter and its compromise to reach the final steps to full democracy have been praised as a model in a region still widely unstable since popular revolts in 2011 that ousted long-standing rulers in Egypt, Yemen and Libya.
“I tell Western tourists, come to Tunisia, the first democracy in the Arab world, to share this historic moment and support a democratic transition and also enjoy its sun, beaches, desert and culture,” Tourism Minister Amel Karboul told Reuters in an interview in her office.
“If everything goes well, our forecasts indicate that we could receive 7 million tourists in 2014.”
The small North African country, looking for its economy to stabilize from the turmoil since the 2011 uprising, relies heavily on European tourism to its Mediterranean beaches. Tourism accounts for 8 percent of gross domestic product.
The threat of Islamist militant attacks also casts a shadow over the country’s tourism industry.
In 2010, a few months before the revolution that toppled former President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia received 6.9 million tourists. But visitors fell to 6 million in 2012 due to political instability.
Karboul, who worked in international companies in London and Berlin and South Africa before taking up her post, said the government was concerned about potential militant violence hurting tourism.
But she said the sector, which employs 500,000 people in Tunisia, hopes to attract more German, British and Russian tourists, as well as restoring its traditionally strong market in travelers from its former colonial ruler France.
“It is true we do have security incidents here,” the minister said. “But security is getting better in the country, that is positive for us.”
Karboul said Tunisia was working to diversify tourism services such as desert tourism and support cultural tourism though developing special events.
Last week, more than 12,000 tourists flocked to the Tunisian Sahara for a music festival. “These events are good for tourism and the image of new Tunisia, but there are many historical sites that we’re working on to support cultural tourism,” she said.