Tunisia aims to woo more tour operators at WTM London 2017, following news that Thomas Cook and other British travel firms will return to the country from early 2018.
The UK Foreign Office changed its travel advice in July, paving the way for British tour operators to start selling holidays again to the popular destination.
National carrier Tunisair – which never stopped flying from the UK to Tunisia – currently operates daily flights from London. Thomas Cook has resumed selling holidays which will start from February 2018, featuring eight hotels near the resort of Hammamet.
Mounira Derbel Ben Cherifa, Director of the Tunisian National Tourist Office in the UK, warmly welcomed the news that Thomas Cook and others, such as Just Sunshine, Cyplon Holidays and Tunisia First, are returning to Tunisia.
“We are confident that the Brits will come back again to Tunisia as they’ve been going on holiday there for the last 40 years,” she said.
She pointed out that thousands of dedicated Brits had continued to holiday in the North African country despite the Foreign Office ban.
Derbel Ben Cherifa said the main message at WTM London will be “Tunisia is open for business again”.
“We will keep in touch with our partners and update them about the new products, events and branding about our readiness to welcome back British travellers,” she said.
The Tunisian National Tourist Office is developing marketing plans with trade partners, such as tour operators, media and travel agents, as well as consumers.
She said that Thomas Cook – which represented about half the UK market – has been in regular contact with the tourist board in London and in Tunisia, as it has been very keen to resume its Tunisian programme as soon as possible.
Before the ban in 2015, about 420,000 Brits travelled to Tunisia annually. In 2016, that fell to just over 23,000 due to the restrictions.
Numbers have been rising in 2017, with almost 17,000 travelling in the first eight months of the year, up 14% compared to the same period in 2016.
Derbel Ben Cherifa estimates that numbers will reach 30,000 in 2017, and will more than double in 2018 to 65,000.
She said the tourist board will work to reassure travellers and highlight Tunisia’s attractions, such as its wintersun credentials, well-being centres, sightseeing and niche markets.
It has more than 700 miles of coastline along the Mediterranean; almost 800 hotels, catering for a range of budgets; and 10 internationally designed golf courses.
There are historic sites dating back thousands of years, and famous filming locations for movies such as The English Patient, Monty Python’s Life of Brian and several films from the Star Wars franchise.
As well as taking part in WTM London, the tourist board is planning to train UK travel agents with a series of roadshows and fam trips, held jointly with tour operators. Regular press trips are also planned to get the message out about Tunisia.
World Travel Market London, Senior Director, Simon Press, said: “This is great news for the UK trade. I know British travel agents welcomed the return of Tunisian holidays, as they have many customers asking about holidays to the country.
“It was encouraging to see how quickly Thomas Cook could start selling holidays to the British market, as it has resort teams in place for German, Belgian and French customers, whose governments did not advise against travel to the country.”