Tunisia promises it'll be ready to keep vacationers safe from the coronavirus when it reopens on Saturday, June 27. But so far, no major tour companies have booked rooms for the summer season, according to Tourism Minister Mohamed Ali Toumi.
Some operators have expressed reservations over the requirement to carry a test certificate showing the visitor doesn’t have the virus, issued not more than 72 hours before arrival, the minister said Monday, June 15, in an interview.
Tourism is a critical revenue generator for the North African nation, which attracted 9.5 million visitors in 2019 and is trying to kick-start an economy that’s stagnated amid years of political infighting and sporadic terrorist attacks.
After about eight days of no new virus cases, Tunisia has reported small daily increases since June 12. Still, the outbreak has been manageable, with 1,125 infections and 49 deaths.
Authorities began easing virus restrictions early this month, and resorts will be allowed to receive tourists with a capacity of 50 per cent from Saturday,June 27, under a plan to open borders and resume flights, Toumi says.
"Hotels will have to apply social distancing rules, and will be providing individual meals instead of an open buffet," he explains. Even swimming pools will face restrictions, with visitors required to be three meters apart, Toumi adds.
Visitors to the country, which is famous for its beaches and bustling historic cities, will be authorised to visit museums, monuments and archaeological sites, and have the chance to take a new test for the coronavirus before leaving.
Reopening Mediterranean holiday destinations
Tunisia's attempting to join a cautious reopening around the Mediterranean. Greece began allowing in foreign visitors this week, with varying rules of entry depending on the place of origin; while Spain aims to open its borders with all members of Europe's so-called Schengen-free travel region on Sunday, June 21.
It has let two planes carrying German tourists land on Mallorca island to test readiness. Egypt says international flights will be permitted from Wednesday, July 1 and at least three provinces home to resorts, including the Red Sea coast, are reopening with precautions.
How to find a European vacation spot in a lockdown
There's no guarantee of success. About 43 per cent of Germans aren't planning a summer vacation at all this year, according to a recent YouGov survey. And in the UK, prospective vacationers are having to factor in a likely 14-day quarantine period on their return.
Tunisian officials are focusing on traditional markets including Germany, Russia, France and the UK, as well as neighbours such as Algeria, attempting to explain measures introduced to prevent new outbreaks of the virus.
Tunisia was hoping to top 10 million this year, generating 7 billion dinars (Dh9.1b) for an economy that's struggled to pick up speed since the Arab Spring uprisings. But it now expects revenue of at most 2.8 billion dinars in 2020, Toumi says.
He doesn’t expect the industry to really recover until next year, and even that might depend on the development of a successful vaccine for Covid-19. The government has provided 500 million dinars in soft loans and financing for the tourism sector to counter the impact of the virus and protect jobs.
"We need tourists and foreign currency to save the tourist season, but this will not be at the expense of the health and safety of visitors," he says. "Tunisia is safe."