Carthage looks to the Gulf for tourism investment


Figures recently released by the Tunisian National Tourist Office revealed that the tourism sector performed well during the first two quarters of 2007.

Constrained by its seasonability and its image as a mass tourism destination, Tunisia needs to raise its profile internationally and begin drawing higher paying guests. Investment from Gulf countries, especially Dubai, is being sought to upgrade the country’s facilities and explore new markets.
According to statistics from the Tunisian National Tourist Office (TNTO), indicators for the first two quarters of 2007 have risen compared to last year: with 4.41 million visitors, tourism was up 3.7 per cent, revenues were up 9.1 per cent to TD1.8 billion ($1.43 billion), the number of night stays rose by one per cent and the occupancy rate increased by 2.6 per cent.
According to the TNTO, it is expected that tourism revenues will increase by 8.6 per cent in 2007. This is important for a country known to have some of the lowest RevPars in the regions.
Tunisia captures only a tiny portion of tourist flows worldwide – less than 1 per cent. Moreover, the number of traditional European tourists, in particular Germans, British, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Maltese, is on a downward trend.
Therefore, the country is looking at courting new areas, particularly booming markets such as Eastern Europe and further afield such as the US, Australia, China and Japan. These promising markets are progressing fast in annual terms, by eight per cent, 7.3 per cent, 56.5 per cent and 18.3 per cent, respectively.
Tourist numbers in North Africa as a whole is also on the rise, especially in Libya (+8.4 per cent) and Algeria (+2.6per cent), although in those cases this is more related to business tourism.
Until recently, the number of tourists coming from the Gulf to Tunisia was measured in the low thousands. The lack of direct flights, and the absence of the sort of luxuries summer tourists from the Gulf like to enjoy, stuck Tunisia in a European mass-market rut. In most statistics indicators, the Gulf is subsumed under the Other Middle East category, discretely mixed in with the Levent. However, with Emirates, Saudia and Qatar Airways now flying to Tunis, interest in the country has begun to increase. Both Emaar and Sama Dubai have been looking at investment possibilities in the country for the tourism industry.
On August 6, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, laid the foundation stone of a $14bn mixed-use development, the largest the country has ever seen. Called Century City, the project is a joint venture between the Tunisian government and Sama Dubai. The project will cover some 850 hectares and offer all the services of a satellite city, including retail and entertainment centres along with apartments and up market housing.
Additionally, the new city will play a major role in the country's tourism industry, boasting 14 high class hotels and resorts, leisure and sporting facilities and a marina as part of the design.
Sama Dubai is far from alone in paying Tunisia more attention. Emaar has also been looking keenly at the possibilities in Tunisia, especially close to the long-awaited new airport at Enfidha, between Hammamet and Sousse.
If such investments do come off, Tunisia could well be looking to attract a different and hopefully higher paying client base.
By Jason J Nash