Terror attack in Tunisia a fresh blow to tourism industry

AP News
Posted: Mar 20, 2015 3:24 PM
Terror attack in Tunisia a fresh blow to tourism industry

The terror attack in Tunisia that killed 21 people is a fresh blow to the North African nation's tourism industry, which has been struggling since the country's revolution of 2011.

Cruise companies canceled stops in the country as 17 of the victims at the Bardo National Museum in Tunis were passengers on shore excursions from two cruise ships in port that day.

As a result, the attack is likely to further hobble Tunisian tourism, despite an online solidarity campaign using the hashtag #JeSuisBardo, French for "I am Bardo." Some of those posting "Je Suis Bardo" on social media pledged to visit Tunisia this summer. The campaign echoed a slogan expressing solidarity with victims of a January terror attack on the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.

About 10 American students in a program at the School of International Training in Tunis added their support at an independence day rally Friday. "It's important to just show that we're not afraid to be here in Tunisia," said Nicole Calande, 20, of San Jose, California. "We want to show the love that we've been given by the Tunisian people. We all live with Tunisian families, so it's very important to show that we're not scared off."

She hopes travelers will still consider visiting: "There's so much to see, so much to experience. The food is amazing, the beaches are beautiful."

Another student, Maile Munro, 21, from Seattle, said when Tunisians share their fear that tourists will stay away, she wants to tell them, "We know that Tunisia is more than this."

Tunisia's president also urged tourists to keep visiting, insisting that security measures are being taken.

"When (tourists) come, it's a message that they are sending to Tunisians, that they are in solidarity," Beji Caid Essebsi said on France's TF1 television Thursday night.

Tourism to Tunisia plunged after the revolution in 2011 led to the overthrow of an authoritarian president and augured the so-called Arab Spring. The country has set forth on a democratic path since but the number of tourists never fully recovered.

A little more than 6 million people visited Tunisia last year, down 3 percent from the previous year and 12 percent lower from the nearly 7 million who visited in 2010.

French tourists have historically been among the largest groups of visitors to Tunisia but their numbers dropped last year by 6 percent. Tunisia's tourism minister complained in February that the Paris attacks had spurred an "irrational" spate of cancellations.

And yet 2015 began with promise for Tunisian tourism. National Geographic Traveler listed Tunis on its top 20 destinations for 2015, citing its "cultural energy," festivals and yes, the Bardo museum, known for antiquities.

Jean-Paul Tennant, CEO of adventure travel company Geographic Expeditions, said "tourism in the region is already substantially down, and we don't expect any meaningful effect from this latest tragedy." He added that those who travel to the region now "tend to be the more intrepid types" who understand that these are "isolated incidents."

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It's unclear how Wednesday's museum attack might impact the cruise industry, which is only just shaking off memories of the 2012 Costa Concordia shipwreck and a series of less serious but headline-grabbing power failures and illness outbreaks on other ships.

Mike Driscoll, editor of Cruise Week, said the attack is "not viewed as a black eye for cruising" because it's not the cruise lines' fault, and it didn't happen on a ship — unlike the horrifying 1985 murder of ship passenger Leon Klinghoffer by terrorists in Egypt.

Driscoll said the Tunis attack "occurred at a museum where others were involved and the traveling public sees a distinction."

Costa Crociere cruise lines suspended trips to Tunisia and MSC Cruises said it was suspending Tunisian ports of call for the rest of the 2015 summer season.

Earlier this week, before the attack, executives at a cruise shipping conference in Miami were asked who, or what, was their greatest competition. Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO Frank Del Rio said the biggest "threat is the geopolitical environment. We just cross our fingers that our ships aren't there. Events you cannot control . that's the biggest threat."


Jamey Keaten in Tunis, Tunisia, and Hernan Munoz in Barcelona, Spain, contributed to this report.