UK eases travel restrictions to Tunisia

Sidi Bou Said in Tunis, Tunisia
Sidi Bou Said is a town in northern Tunisia located about 20 kilometers from the capital of Tunis. Photo credit: EnginKorkmaz//Getty Images

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK has further lifted restrictions on travel to Tunisia, a move likely to drive tourists to the region.

The decision came as Mövenpick announced plans to take over an upscale hotel as the country moves away from the budget market and looks to the business and luxury sector. 

The FCO no longer advises against all but essential travel to the town of Jendouba, and some areas of southern Tunisia, including the towns of Médenine, Tataouine and Douz. A state of emergency is in effect in Tunisia, imposed after a suicide attack on a police bus on November 24, 2015. It has been extended a number of times, most recently on March 12, 2018, by seven months.

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The FCO said that, since the terrorist attack in Sousse in June 2015, which targeted tourists, the UK government had been working closely with the Tunisian authorities to investigate the attack and the wider threat from terrorist groups and the Tunisian government has improved protective security in major cities and tourist resorts.

The organization cautioned: “But terrorists are still very likely to try to carry out attacks in Tunisia, including against UK and Western interests. Security forces remain on a high state of alert in Tunis and other places.”

Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts has signed an agreement with Société Touristique du Sud to manage the Plaza Sfax & Spa Hotel, a city-center property close to the Sfax International Fair convention centre and and 10 kilometers from Sfax-Thyna Airport.

When the hotel launches as Mövenpick Hotel Sfax later this year, it will be the Swiss hospitality firm’s fourth property in Tunisia.

“This upcoming addition to our Tunisia portfolio will expand our regional footprint, stamping out our presence in a new destination with high growth potential," said Andrew Langdon, chief development officer for Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts.

“Sfax is not only a historic city with Mediterranean charm, but an up-and-coming business and trading centre where upscale hotel supply is relatively limited and corporate demand is strong. Operating a property in a central location and with a raft of high-quality facilities will enable us to capitalise on these favourable market conditions.”

Tunisia's Climb Back

Tunisia's inbound tourists were up 23.6 percent on the year to 2.1 million for January to May, according to the Tunisian Ministry of Tourism. Tunisian Minister of Tourism Salma Elloumi said the increase was “remarkable and significant progress,” anticipating that the current year would see recovery of the country's tourism.

Hotels were eager to capitalize on the country’s recovery. According to Knight Frank’s Africa 2018 report, Tunisia had 103 branded hotels in the pipeline, the fifth-largest in the continent. The broker drew attention to Qatari Diar’s Anantara resort development in southwest Tunisia as an example of an increase in interest from Middle Eastern investors in the region. 

The new-build resort, due to open next year, will feature 93 guestrooms and villas, including pool villas, a selection of restaurants and bars, meeting and business facilities, kids and teens clubs, a health club and an Anantara Spa.

Dillip Rajakarier, CEO of Minor Hotel Group, said that he hoped the resort would “help further develop luxury tourism” in the region. Others are likely to be watching its progress with similar aspirations. 

Katherine Doggrell is an editor at Hotel Analyst, the U.K.-based news analysis service for hotel investors.

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