While authorities in the Ministry of Tourism and the National Office of Tunisian Tourism may temporary revel in the fact that Sousse and Hammamet hotels are full, the fall and winter seasons will be upon us soon.
Both before and since the 2011 revolution, Tunisia’s tourism authorities have been talking about “cultural” and “alternative” tourism. For the most part, their lack of action has shown that these were only empty words.
In fact, at both a recent World Bank meeting about cultural tourism and a Bizerte conference on new business opportunities, tourism authorities showed up late, read their prepared speeches, and left. These events would have been perfect opportunities for them to hear from the people who have been investing time and money in alternative tourism projects away from “sun and sea;” people who are actually putting their money where their mouth is.
Earlier this month, Toronto’s Globe & Mail had a cover story in their travel section about the island of Djerba. This could have been great news for Tunisia’s tourism industry. Unfortunately, reporter Eric Reguly’s first impressions were the same that most tourists see today. Garbage.
“Alas, my first impressions were not positive…. the roads and fields of olive and date trees were covered in garbage, mostly blue plastic bags,” writes Reguly.
Instead of attending every tourism fair for which that they can get per diem stipends, or giving speeches and then ignoring the initiatives of people trying to develop creative tourism programs for Tunisia, government authorities should start a campaign to clean up Tunisia’s tourism sites.
It is sorry to say that, before the revolution, visitors would often comment on how clean Tunisia was. After the revolution, first impressions are made by the great heaps of trash and extensive graffiti.
If people in positions of authority in Tunisia truly want to help tourism return to the country beyond the summer season, the cost of implementing a clean-up campaign would be relatively inexpensive. Its implementation should not be that difficult. But I worry even about suggesting this.
At a December 2012 World Bank conference, the then-Minister of Tourism proudly announced that the ministry had “been studying” improvements in the promotion of the sector and was in the process of implementing parts of a 2016 strategy that would include Tunisia having a functioning tourism website. That was hardly reassuring.
In a country whose revolution was mobilized by tech-savvy 20-somethings impatient with the former regime’s lack of common sense, the Ministry of Tourism and the National Office of Tunisian Tourism should spend more time listening to professionals who have already been investing time and money in efforts to improve Tunisia’s tourism image. That’s a plan that no one in Tunisia should need to spend too much time studying.
Jerry Sorkin is the founder and president of Tunis USA, a tour company headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The post reflects the opinions of the author and not those of Tunisia Live as a publication.