Haykel Akrout has been the manager of the luxury Bel Azur for over 20 years. He proudly shows us around this hotel with swimming pools and thalasso, overlooking the beach in Hammamet, the famous Tunisian seaside town.
“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 hotel 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, Germans and Italians.
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 with my mother every year. France isn’t 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 improvement. But, compared to 2020 – a catastrophic year with a decline of 80% – we are very far from normal activity with an increase of 11% this year”, confirms to AFP Dora Milad, president of the 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”, Hamid Bentahar, president of the Confederation of Tourism in Morocco, explains to AFP.
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. “declined to just 25% (from normal, editor’s note) due to the pandemic”, which peaked in July, according to the president of the FNH Hotel Federation, 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”, estimates the director of Bel Azur. 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 be necessary to “rethink 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 sites totally unexploited”.
At the FTH, Ms. Milad is of the same opinion. It evokes the South, the interior regions (Jebel 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.
Without forgetting that “seaside tourism represents 80% of world demand”, and without “eliminate what has been built”, we therefore need a new “vision“, she defends.