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Thu 27 Aug 2015 10:49 AM

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Focus: How Tunisia's hotels are fighting back

Hoteliers in the North African state are looking to Algerians and domestic travellers to fill the Euro-gap caused by the recent shootings.

Focus: How Tunisia's hotels are fighting back

Tunisia’s hospitality and tourism industries have taken another blow since the 2011 uprisings; however, the hospitality industry has already started to diversify its source markets to counteract the expected decrease in visitors as a result of recent shootings.

Tunisia, a country that has had been making headway in its tourism recovery process post the 2011 revolution, once again faces uncertainty following a succession of two high-profile terrorist attacks, which resulted in the deaths of international tourists.

Prior to this year, arrivals had returned to levels above six million (6,071,000 in 2014 and 6,785,100 in 2013, according to Euromonitor) after figures plummeted to 4.79mn in 2011 from close to 7mn in 2010.

At the time of going to press, a state of emergency was in place in Tunisia, a move called by the country’s president following the shootings in Port El Kantaoui, Sousse, in which 39 travellers were killed on June 26.

The attack, which took place less than four months after a similar incident at the National Museum in Tunis, has not only had an immediate impact on the country’s tourism industry, but is expected to cause lasting damage for months to come, especially as numerous foreign offices have advisories warning against anything except essential travel to the country.

According to Tourism Minister Salma Loumi, the tourism industry is estimated to lose around $515mn this year, a heavy blow for a country reliant on revenues from visitors.

Commenting on how the industry handled the events, The Risk Advisory Group head of intelligence & analysis Henry Wilkinson said that it “demonstrated that the better prepared tour operators and hoteliers are to deal with such incidents, the better equipped they are to manage their response. It is very hard to respond to such incidents in an effective way if detailed crisis planning has not been undertaken in advance.

“Each situation is completely different depending on the country the attack takes place, the location of the hotel, the political situation and many other factors. What they all have in common however is the fact that it is very difficult for any company to defend against an armed attack.

“That said, there are measures that can be taken to lower the probability or impact of such incidents and help companies deal with such crises.”

Hotels in the vicinity of the latest attacks have all increased their security measures and are working with the local army and police authorities in a measure to ensure the safety of existing and any expected guests.

Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts, which operates the Mövenpick Resort & Marine Spa Sousse just 8km from the incident, has increased the level of security personnel and worked with local authorities who have increased police patrols around the hotel and beach, and installed armed policemen at the front gates, with a permanent detail of 12 officers.

Talking to Arabian Travel News about these measures, vice president sales & marketing — Africa Stephen Banks said: “We are confident that these extra measures that have been taken in cooperation with the police force will be likely to reassure our guests as to the security aspect of their stay.

“[The attacks] will certainly have an effect; however, as there are measures in place, that will go some way to reassure visitors. We have confidence that business will return to more normal levels in a few months. It’s also important to remember a great deal of business to our hotels is derived locally, both for leisure and meetings, therefore we expect this to continue unabated.”

Carlson Rezidor Hotels Group, which operates Radisson Blu-branded properties in neighbouring Djerba and Hammamet, also increased security at its hotels and implemented a permanent liaison with the army and closest police station, on top of its security personnel and camera monitoring.

Commenting on the downturn, Carlson Rezidor Hotels Group district director for North-West Africa Christian Antoine told Arabian Travel News that while its hotels in the country had noticed a decrease in reservations, it was their focus to concentrate on the safety of guests: “At the moment, we are all shocked and saddened by what happened in Sousse, and as a hotel director/owner, we must ensure our client’s security.

“As soon as this attack was announced, Radisson Blu hotels in Tunisia implemented maximum security measures to reassure our clients in Tunisia and ensure maximum security for our future clients.

“Of course the coming months will not be easy for tourism in Tunisia, but the government, the police and the economic strengths in Tunisia are working hard to ensure maximum safety and regain the confidence of future travellers. We expect the tourism level to come back after mid-July with more local customers, and also regain our loyal customers.”

Numerous hotel operators had announced development plans over the past few months including Hilton Worldwide, which signed a franchise agreement with El Mouradi Hotels & Resorts Group earlier this year, and Marriott International which had announced the signing of Sousse Marriott Hotel Nejma to open in 2017.

Both hotel companies appear to be undeterred by the attacks and remain committed to developments.

Speaking to Arabian Travel News, a Hilton spokesperson said: “Tunisia continues as part of Hilton’s development plans — as we remain vigilant in the markets where we are developing hotels.

“The investor is developing the project and we continue to work closely with them based on the expected opening in 2016. DoubleTree by Hilton Tunis Africa is a conversion and rebrand of the existing El Mouradi Africa Hotel — following the investment/refurbishment currently underway.”

Marriott International Middle East and Africa president and managing director Alex Kyriakidis added: “Despite the recent tragic events in Tunisia, at this time we are not changing our development plans in the country as we still see Tunisia as an important and emerging destination. We will continue to closely monitor the situation there and we will respond accordingly.”

Deema Solutions head of sales and marketing Mohamed Derouiche noted that the recent attacks had already had a damaging impact on bookings: “While a few weeks before the tragedy, several hotels announced stop-sales and being fully booked during many dates in July, August and even September, we’re today receiving, from almost all hotels, aggressive promotions to boost sales for the summer. It is clear that hoteliers are now seeking to quickly compensate the lost business, initially booked by foreign tour operators.

“It is difficult to find a coastal hotel running with more than 40% occupancy while we’re in the heart of the summer season, not to mention hotels that officially announced their closure until further notice.”

While the recovery process is destined to take some time, especially following the blow to traveller confidence, the industry is optimistic, and is already looking to temporarily shift its focus to make up the short fall expected in the coming months.

Visit Tunisia’s Kamel noted that plans had already been implemented by the Ministry of Tourism and the Federation of Hotels and Travel Agencies in targeting increased visitors from neighbouring Algeria over the summer period: “There is a very good relation between Algerians and Tunisians. This could be part of the immediate solution for this season.”

Derouiche agreed, noting: “The travel and tourism landscape has already changed. Hoteliers are now aware that they can no longer come out of it by relying heavily on traditional European markets. For the time being, alike previous post-revolution years, they should continue targeting domestic tourism and also the Algerian market, but this time with greater efforts and with more aggressive campaigns in order to limit the damage, and save whatever can be saved of the current season.”

According to figures released by the Tunisian National Tourist Office for 2013, a third of hotel guests were from the domestic market, accounting for almost 4.3mn overnights — 14.1% of the total recorded in that year. Out of the non-resident arrivals, Algerian nationals accounted for close to 1mn visitors. And while they traditionally opt for private apartments and villas, hotels registered 654,000 overnights in 2013 from this source market.

Similar results in terms of visitors were recorded by Euromonitor in 2014, with 956,400 trips out of the 6,071,000 registered in that year coming from Algeria.

“The question now is how quickly the Tunisian government — and the local tourism industry — can re-establish the confidence in the country and move on from this tragedy. Tunisia can’t do much on its own about Libya, but it can take care of its own security. If its tourism industry is to recover from the Sousse attack, it needs to be seen to be doing this as well,” Wilkinson concluded.

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