Jessica Elgot, The Guardian, June 29, 2015
Thousands of tourists who were on holiday in Tunisia when the deadly attack took place at a beach resort there on Friday have now arrived back in the UK, as experts warned the African country’s tourism industry may be hit hard in the coming months.
Abta, the Association of British Travel Agents, said it estimated around 8,000 Britons had now left Tunisia, with 12,000 remaining, down from the 20,000 who were holidaying there before Friday’s attack. More may still be travelling independently of package tours.
Tourism has been a slow-growing industry for Tunisia’s fledgling democracy, taking a hit after an attack on the Bardo museum in Tunis in March. The sector accounted for around 14.5 percent of Tunisian GDP last year.
Share prices of travel groups TUI and Thomas Cook tumbled when the stock market opened in London on Monday, as markets reacted to the evacuation of tourists from Tunisia, as well as the Greek debt crisis.
In total, 38 people lost their lives when Tunisian student Seifeddine Rezgui opened fire on the beach at the Riu Imperial Barhaba. Seventeen people from the UK and Ireland have been confirmed among the dead, but that toll could rise to 30 or more.
Nadejda Popova, senior travel analyst at Euromonitor International, said tourism growth was “highly dependent on the safety and stability in Tunisia” and travellers were now likely to avoid the country in the “short to medium term”.
“Tunisia does have a history of being quite resilient after terror attacks and threats but this attack has had much more media coverage, comparatively, to the museum attack a few months ago and will make travellers even more cautious,” she said.
Large hotels, like the ones targeted by the gunman on Friday, may bear the biggest losses. “They are more of a target and tourists may choose to opt to go to smaller places if the authorities are not able to respond effectively,” Popova said.
Tunisia’s tourism ministry confirmed plans on Monday to deploy 1,000 armed officers from 1 July to reinforce the tourism police, who will now also carry guns for the first time. Armed officers will be deployed “inside and outside hotels”, on beaches and at tourist and archaeological sites, the ministry said.
TUI, which owns Thomson and First Choice, said 4,000 of its customers had now flown back to the UK since the attack, although none of the affected hotels were used by the firm.
The company is offering customers due to travel to Tunisia up to 4 July the chance to cancel or alter their booking, with those travelling later on in July able to rearrange free of charge, scheduling three extra flights to Cape Verde, Rhodes and Gran Canaria as possible alternative destinations.
“As it stands, the FCO [Foreign Office] are not advising against all travel to Tunisia and therefore holidaymakers who want to continue their holiday can do so as planned and return on their scheduled flights,” a spokesman said.
“We are aware that some families continue to wait for news of their loved ones. We have been working closely with the FCO and Metropolitan police and, once they have completed their initial formalities, we are offering all possible support to the families of those who have died or have been injured. This includes, should they wish to, flying them to and from Tunisia.”
One travel agent has hinted it may now review whether it continues to offer holidays to the country. Holiday firm Jet2 deployed three extra aircraft to Tunisia over the weekend, and its chief executive, Steve Heapy, is in Tunisia visiting the firm’s partner hotels in Sousse, Port el Kantaoui and four other resorts, as well as meeting customers who have chosen to remain on holiday.
The company has cancelled all flights and holidays to Tunisia up to and including 5 July, offering customers a refund or an option to change their booking. Customers booked until the end of July are also able to change their destination.
“We are currently looking at options for those customers travelling from 1 August and in 2016 and will provide further updates on this,” a spokesperson said.
The Foreign Office has updated its advice for travelling to Tunisia, telling travellers to be “especially vigilant” and not to travel to the Chaambi Mountain national park area, the Tunisia-Algeria border crossings at Ghardimaou, Hazoua and Sakiet Sidi Youssef, the militarised area south of El Borma and Dehiba or within 5km (3.1 miles) of the Libyan border.
“Further terrorist attacks in Tunisia, including in tourist resorts, are possible, including by individuals who are unknown to the authorities and whose actions are inspired by terrorist groups via social media,” the advice warns. “You should be especially vigilant at this time and follow the advice of Tunisian security authorities and your tour operator.”
David Cameron announced on Monday that an additional RAF C17 transport plane was being deployed to help bring stranded tourists home, and potentially repatriate bodies. Almost 400 officers were at UK airports over the weekend to speak to potential witnesses as they returned.
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk
This article was written by Jessica Elgot from The Guardian and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.