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Thomas Cook’s fallout not an end to Tunisia’s tourism industry

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

Read Also: Flash flood kills 2, 5 still missing in Kenya

‘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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Zimbabweans lament after price of bread rises by 60% overnight

Bakers said they were forced to hike their prices due to rising production costs

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Zimbabweans lament after price of bread rises by 60% overnight

The price of bread shot up 60 per cent overnight in Zimbabwe, in the latest blow for a population already struggling with spiralling living costs.

Zimbabweans can barely keep pace with the price rises that have rekindled fears of hyperinflation which reached 500 billion per cent a decade ago and forced the country to trash its own currency.

Already, many families live on one meal a day, with the country in the grip of a major downturn that has provoked biting shortages of basics such as fuel and medicine.

Bakers said they were forced to hike their prices due to rising production costs.

Electricity prices have “gone up significantly, the price of fuel has also been going up weekly, the prices of raw materials have also gone up including the cost of importing wheat,” said Dennis Wala, the president of the National Bakers’ Association.

Electricity is only available for around six hours a day, forcing many bakers to use generators to run their ovens.

“The bread manufacturer is at the end of the value chain and we have to factor in all these costs, but we don’t prescribe prices to our members,” Wala told reporters.

The price of a loaf of bread soared to 15 Zimbabwe dollars (around US$1) on Wednesday from nine dollars the previous day, according to a correspondent.

Bread is the second most important staple in the country after a thick cornmeal porridge known in the local Shona language as “sadza”.

After decades of mismanagement under former President Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe reached absurd levels of hyperinflation in 2008-2009 when the central bank started printing money.

Mugabe’s successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa has failed to stop the latest inflation surge, last week begging for patience to bring the economy back from the “dead”.

But the economy is near breaking point.

Hundreds of thousands of government workers said this week they could no longer afford to report for duty as their wages had been rendered almost worthless.

Last week, the authorities quadrupled the price of electricity — which is already in short supply after a 400 per cent hike in August.

Earlier this month, the price of fuel rose more than 25 per cent, the latest in series of regular increases.

The official inflation rate was 290 per cent last month, but economists estimate it is at least double that figure.

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Nigeria to sign military cooperation deal with Russia

Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari is due to meet Putin on the sidelines of a Russia-Africa summit in Sochi

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Nigeria to sign military cooperation deal with Russia

Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari hopes to sign a military-technical cooperation deal with Russia at talks with President Vladimir Putin this month that will help it fight Boko Haram militants.

The Nigerian leader is due to meet Putin on the sidelines of a Russia-Africa summit in the Black Sea city of Sochi amid a push by Moscow to expand its influence in Africa.

“We’re sure that with Russian help we’ll manage to crush Boko Haram, given Russia’s experience combating Islamic State in Syria,” Nigerian envoy, Steve Ugbah said in an interview with Russia’s RIA news agency, adding that Nigeria was interested in purchasing Russian helicopters, planes, tanks and other military equipment.

Ugbah says a military-technical cooperation deal between Russia and Nigeria had already been drafted and that it is awaiting finalisation. 

“We hope President Buhari can take the talks to their logical end. The agreement will open new possibilities in such areas as the supply of military equipment and training for specialists,” he adds.

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Nigeria, Cameroon to plan Cocoa price cartel

The plan suggested by Nigeria is part of a trend by cocoa growers in West Africa and Latin America

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Nigeria, Cameroon to plan Cocoa price cartel

Nigeria aims to team up with Cameroon to agree on a premium for its cocoa with buyers, after the world’s top growers, Ivory Coast and Ghana set a price floor for the crop.

The plan suggested by Nigeria, the world’s fourth-largest cocoa producer, is part of a trend which has seen growers in West Africa and Latin America seek to influence prices in the global market.

The move follows Ghana and Ivory Coast’s union in July, which set the price for a ton of cocoa from their countries at $2,600 plus a $400 premium described as “living income differential”.

READ: Cocoa industry stakeholders accept Ghana, Ivory Coast price

Both countries produced 60 per cent of the world’s cocoa in 2018.

Vice President of the World Cocoa Producers Organisation, Sayina Riman says discussions will be held with the private sector and the Nigerian Government before formal talks are held with Cameroon.  

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