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Thomas Cook’s fallout not an end to Tunisia’s tourism industry4 minutes read

Thomas Cook returned in force to Tunisia last year, before collapsing on Monday.

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Tunisian Tourism Minister Rene Trabelsi (L) gives a press conference in the capital Tunis on September 24, 2019, in the wake of the British travel group Thomas Cook's bankruptcy crisis.
Tunisian Tourism Minister Rene Trabelsi (L) gives a press conference in the capital Tunis on September 24, 2019, in the wake of the British travel group Thomas Cook's bankruptcy crisis. (Photo by MOHAMED KHALIL / AFP)

British tour operator Thomas Cook going bankrupt may not spell the end of tourism in Tunisia, but it highlights the need to diversify the key sector beyond all-inclusive beach holidays. The demise of the package holiday giant comes as Tunisia recovers from a three-year tourism lull after jihadist attacks in 2015 that killed tourists.

The attacks on a museum and beach resort killed 30 Britons among 38 foreign holiday makers, sending an industry that employed tens of thousands of people into a tailspin. But the sector has since rebounded on the back of improved security, with an expected record total of nine million visitors to the Mediterranean country for 2019. 

Thomas Cook returned in force to Tunisia last year, before collapsing on Monday. The tour operator’s fallout has left some $66 million in hotel bills unpaid, according to initial estimates by the Tunisian Federation of hoteliers.

But federation head Khaled Fakhfakh said he did not think losses would severely impact a sector back on track eight years after an uprising toppled dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. “Nationwide, tourism receipts have exceeded those for 2010,” a reference point in the industry, he said. “The losses won’t affect this performance.”

A British government official speaks to tourists, flying with Thomas Cook, as they queue at the Enfidha International airport on September 23, 2019, on the outskirts of Sousse south of the capital Tunis
A British government official speaks to tourists, flying with Thomas Cook, as they queue at the Enfidha International airport on September 23, 2019, on the outskirts of Sousse south of the capital Tunis. (Photo by FETHI BELAID / AFP)

Pay Attention: Tunisia to receive $335 million in aid from the United States

‘We learnt to bounce back’

The bankruptcy is set to affect around 40 hotels, says Fakhfakh. But “I don’t think there will be any bankruptcies”, he said. An employee at a travel agency, who asked to remain anonymous, said tourism in Tunisia would recover.

“It will be tough, but not insurmountable,” the employee said. After the 2015 attacks, “for three years, Thomas Cook had more or less left the country but we learnt to bounce back.” This year, Thomas Cook had organised for 230,000 holidaymakers – around half from Britain – to visit Tunisia, the tourism ministry says.

That represented around 3.5 percent of all tourists to the country, and 5 percent of the European market. After the bankruptcy, some 10,000 holidaymakers – including 4,500 Britons – are slowly being flown home as their stays come to an end.

Britain and Belgium are repatriating their nationals, Tunisian authorities have said. Beyond unpaid bills, up to 40,000 trips planned for the rest of the year have been cancelled, the ministry says. The bankruptcy has thrown a Tunisian tourism agency that provided transport to Thomas Cook clients into turmoil.

British tourists, flying with Thomas Cook, queue at the Enfidha Hammamet International Airport, in Sousse,
British tourists, flying with Thomas Cook, queue at the Enfidha Hammamet International Airport, in Sousse, Tunisia on September 24, 2019. British travel group Thomas Cook on Monday declared bankruptcy after failing to reach a last-ditch rescue deal. Officials had hired dozens of charter planes to fly home Thomas Cook customers. Nacer Talel / Anadolu Agency

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‘Tired’ tourism model

But in a country where three quarters of tourists are brought in by tour operators, the crisis has also renewed calls for the tourism sector – which accounts for around 7 percent of the GDP – to broaden its horizons.

Despite an increase in tourist arrivals, the sector remains fragile, with banking sources estimating its debt at $1.5 billion last year. “It’s a model that has started to tire,” tourism expert Hedi Hamdi said. “There needs to be a smooth transition” to a new model including attractive options for the younger generation, he said.

From booking a cheap flight and local transport to browsing accommodation and leisure options online, Tunisia is still struggling to provide for tourists who do not want to end up stuck in an organised holiday. Hoteliers have asked for a OpenSky accord to finally be signed with the European Union to allow low cost airlines to land in Tunisia.

The deal, which has been in the works for several years, would reduce dependency on flights chartered by tour operators. But it could also be a double-edged sword, warns Hamdi. “It could result in a new hegemony of companies such as Expedia or booking.com, who also have stringent demands,” he said, referring to the online booking platforms.

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Uganda approves return of over 2,500 nationals stranded abroad

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Over 2,500 Ugandan nationals stranded abroad amid the Covid-19 pandemic can now return home as approved by the Ugandan cabinet.

The cabinet on Monday, agreed that Ugandan nationals trapped in 66 countries can return home at their own cost.

The government is making arrangements with the UN World Food Program (WFP) to fly the stranded citizens home, Judith Nabakooba, the country’s minister for information, communication technology and national guidance says, adding that all the returning citizens will have to undergo a 14-day mandatory institutional quarantine. 

President Yoweri Museveni last month, directed Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda to study the possibility of evacuating dozens of citizens stranded abroad amid Covid-19 pandemic travel restrictions. 

To contain the spread of Covid-19, the country on March 22 suspended all incoming flights, except cargo flights. 

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Border closure hurts Tanzania’s horticultural exports

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A border closure between Tanzania and Kenya has hit Dar es Salaam’s horticulture sector due to long delays at the crossing for fresh produce truckers, resulting in a disruption of the supply chain.

Horticulture is one of Tanzania’s economic pillars.

This past week, Tanzania Horticulture Association (TAHA) Chief Executive, Jacqueline Mkindi asked the governments of Tanzania and Kenya to resolve the border issue for the sake of an already struggling exports industry.

Most of Tanzania’s horticulture produce is exported through Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA). “If this tug of war continues, we’ll be the first to suffer as we still rely on JKIA and the port in Mombasa to export crops whose routes are not open from Tanzania,” Mkindi adds. “Our government has all along been considerate to horticulture. We advise it to embark on economic negotiations with Kenya to allow cargo to continue crossing borders smoothly.”

After an international aviation halt, the TAHA signed a deal with Ethiopian Airlines.

Despite the deal with Ethiopian Airlines to ferry fresh vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers to global markets from Kilimanjaro International Airport, the airline has still not been granted long-term landing permits.

Currently, TAHA has to apply for a landing warrant for every incoming flight at routine airport charges and has to attach backup documents each time.

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Ethiopia to divest 40% of Ethio Telecom

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The Ethiopian government is finalizing plans to sell a 40 percent stake in Ethio Telecom- the country’s sole telecommunication provider . The plan was announced by Ethiopia’s State Minister of Finance, Eyob Tekalign Tolina.

Ethiopia’s telecommunication industry is considered one of the last closed markets. It has been one of the government’s plans to liberalize the country’s economy launched by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Ethio Telecom has a large market serving a population of around 110 million.

The government will retain ownership of the remaining 60 percent.

Foreign firms in the telecom sector will be invited to bid and a percentage of the minority stake will be sold to Ethiopian citizens. South Africa’s MTN and Kenya’s Safaricom have shown interest in expanding into Ethiopia in the past.

Ethiopia’s communications regulator says the country would proceed with the privatisation of the telecommunications sector despite the novel coronavirus outbreak.

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