Tunisia tourism sees 'slight recovery'
TUNIS - Tunisia's Tourism Minister Salma Rekik Elloumi, whose country's vital sector has seen visitor numbers plummet after jihadist attacks in 2015, said a "slight recovery" is underway.
Elloumi, interviewed by AFP on the sidelines of the two-day Jewish pilgrimage to Djerba that started on Wednesday, said as many as 12,000 tourists had travelled to the island.
"In all touristic towns, there is a slight recovery," the minister said, without giving nationwide figures.
Before Tunisia's 2011 revolution, the North African country attracted almost seven million visitors a year, with its tourism sector accounting for seven percent of GDP.
Four years of decline because of political instability were followed by jihadist attacks in 2015 in Tunis and a beach resort in Sousse that killed 60 people, all but one of them foreign tourists, slashing arrival numbers in half.
Dozens of tourist complexes shut their doors in the winter because of the dearth of reservations, and this year's number do not bode well.
According to the central bank, tourism revenues for the first quarter of 2016 amounted to 120 million euros ($135 million), down almost 52 percent on the first three months of last year.
One year after the Sousse attack in which 30 Britons were killed, the Foreign Office has kept in place an advisory against all but essential travel to Tunisia.
For "countries which have a ban on Tunisia... we don't work only with tour operators", said Elloumi.
"We work with newspapers and the media that are opinion makers and they come to Tunisia to see in all transparency our security measures," the minister said.
"Security is our priority... because without security there can be no recovery," she said.
"We have put in place in tourist institutions, in airports and hotels an obligation to conform to international security norms and standards."
She said Tunisia was diversifying its markets, encouraging visitors from central Europe, and attracting more domestic and regional tourists, such as the pilgrimage to Africa's oldest synagogue on Djerba in the south.
"This is a message we are sending out to the whole world. Tunisia is a safe country," she said in a message to the pilgrimage held under heavy security to ward off jihadist attacks.