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Sun, sea and hot sand, everything came together this October morning in Hammamet for the pleasure of tourists. But at the time of assessments, in Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria, the mood is gloomy: the 2021 season has only given a little oxygen to a sector ravaged by the Covid-19.
Haykel Akrout has been the manager of the luxurious Bel Azur, a hotel located on the coast of the famous Tunisian seaside town, for over twenty years. He proudly shows visitors around the estate, which has swimming pools and a thalassotherapy center. “2021 is better than 2020 (…) But it’s still half as good as 2019, because of the constraints” linked to Covid-19, he told AFP.
After an epidemic outbreak in July, its 1,000-bed establishment had to halve its capacity and Tunisia found itself in the red zone for all of Europe, where its usual tourists come from, especially French, German and Italian. .
Like all the Russians met at Bel Azur, Elena Bakurova chose the land of jasmine for the “Very good price paid” for this “Superb place”. Coming from Vladivostok, in the Russian Far East to celebrate her 44th birthday, she “Also wanted to discover Africa”.
Yanis Merabti, a 28-year-old worker from Lyon, also opted for Tunisia “For a question of price”. But not only. “We come every year with my mother. France is not like that in October. You can’t find the beach, the sun, it’s cold. “
With a hotel 30% full, including 130 Russians, “We are talking about survival, we are not at all in a context of profitability”, deplores Mr. Akrout.
The 2021 season saw “A very slight better. But, compared to 2020 – catastrophic year with a regression of 80% –, we are very far from normal activity with an increase of 11% this year ”, confirms to AFP Dora Milad, president of the Tunisian Hotel Federation (FTH). In good years like 2019, with 9 million overnight stays, tourism represented up to 14% of the GDP, supporting 2 million Tunisians.
Also dependent on the sector, Morocco experienced a relative improvement after the reopening of the borders in mid-June. The country recorded more than 3.5 million admissions at the end of August against 2.2 million a year earlier, but four times less than in 2019 (13 million).
“The recovery was particularly good in the seaside towns. But it was slowed down by the restrictions imposed in August ”, explains to AFP Hamid Bentahar, president of the National Confederation of Tourism (CNT).
Under the effect of an epidemic peak, Morocco tightened health restrictions by limiting travel to the tourist centers of Marrakech and Agadir (west).
In Algeria, where domestic tourism provides the largest contingent of visitors, hotel activity has increased. “Down to just 25% [de la normale] due to the pandemic “, which peaked in July, according to the president of the National Federation of Algerian Hoteliers (FNH), Ahmed Oulbachir.
In recent days, thanks to a sharp drop in contaminations and deaths, Tunisia has been removed from the red lists of the United Kingdom and France, which has taken an identical measure for Morocco and Algeria.
For winter 2021, it is “Already too late”, believes the director of Bel Azur, Mr. Akrout. Corn “It’s like a big liner, it will restart the machine” and allow “Save the 2022 season: we will be able to sign contracts with tour operators”.
Professionals are preparing for a recovery while believing that it will take “Rethinking tourism”. Tunisia, “It is no longer the image of the camel and the beach only. Mass tourism has shown its limits ”, considers Mr. Akrout, calling for “Magnificent, totally untapped sites”. At FTH, Mme Milad is of the same opinion. It evokes the South, the interior regions (djebel El-Saha) or the “Coasts of Carthage”, near Tunis. According to her, the sector has “Rested on its laurels” and its exponential development from the 1960s.
We must therefore redefine the sector, but without forgetting that “Seaside tourism represents 80% of world demand” and without “Eliminate what has been built”, specifies the patron of the Tunisian federation, for whom we must build a new “Vision”.