Tunisia’s tourism sector hopes for a quick recovery as borders reopen

For Tunisia’s economy, tourism is crucial as restaurants, businesses and hotels await the return of visitors after the coronavirus lockdown.

In the historic heart of Tunisia’s capital, Tunis, coppersmith Mohamed Chawchi is putting his skills to work.

He hammers away at plates he plans to sell, hoping the worst of the coronavirus pandemic is over.

“The coronavirus outbreak was a very, very tough period,” Chawchi said. “Even after we reopened, it’s still been very difficult on artisanal activities because we’re working for tourists who still can’t come here.”

Chawchi’s shop is in the old Medina of Tunis, a UNESCO world heritage site that treats visitors to a rich sampling of local crafts and cuisine. It is also an area that’s usually overflowing with people.

Five years ago, gunmen killed 38 European tourists at a beach resort near the city of Sousse – an attack that affected the tourism sector significantly.

According to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, Tunisia has 1,164 cases of coronavirus, including 50 deaths.

With the number of daily new confirmed coronavirus cases in decline, government officials set June 27 as the date for reopening the country’s air, land and sea borders.

Travel Agency owner Ali Hanfi is happy with the decision, but said Tunisia will face a harder time recovering from the effects of COVID-19 than it did from the aftermath of violence.

“Terrorism hit almost everywhere in the world and we survived and we knew how to overcome it,” said Hanfi. “But for coronavirus, it is affecting the whole world and, so far, we don’t know yet how to deal with it.”

Tunisia’s hospitality sector is trying its best.

At the El-Ali Restaurant in Tunis, that means new hygiene and social distancing measures have been implemented: hand sanitiser is being offered at the entrance and masks are mandatory for the staff.

Jihan Bouhadra, owner and manager of the restaurant, says things are very different.

“We try to try to understand the behaviour of customers,” Bouhadra said. “Some of them are still afraid. Some of them think that it will return.”

In the town of Sidi Bou Said – about 20km from Tunis with spectacular views of the Mediterranean – boutique hotels like the Villa Bleue have been preparing for a while now.

“We dealt with professional cleaners to deep clean all the furniture,” said hotel manager Mahdi Bouassida.

“All the curtains, beddings and floorings. Everything has been professionally done and we abide by the rules that were set by the government.”

With the rooms ready, all that is left now is for the guests to arrive.

Source: Al Jazeera