Tunisians urge rethink in travel advice from Foreign Office


The Government's refusal to relax its travel advice for Tunisia almost one year after the deadly attack near Sousse is allowing the perpetrators to believe they are "on the winning side", the country's UK-based tourism officials said.

Some 30 Britons were killed by gunman Seifeddine Rezgui in the coastal resort of Port El Kantaoui on June 26 last year, leading the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to advise against all but essential travel to the North African country.

Terror group Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack.

Tarek Aouadi, director of the Tunisian National Tourist Office (TNTO) in the UK, fought back tears as he insisted it was wrong for his home country to be punished as a result of the attack.

He told the Press Association: "Tunisia shouldn't be penalised because very hurtful, criminal people wanted to damage its economy.

"They are succeeding because if tourism is banned from the UK market that gives them a very good signal that they are on the winning side."

UK tour operators stopped selling holidays to Tunisia following the FCO advice, which warns that "further attacks remain highly likely".

Mr Aouadi said no other country has issued the same advice as the UK.

An FCO spokesman said safety is its "main concern" and its guidance is under "constant review".

TNTO figures for the first four months of 2016 show that the number of UK visitors to Tunisia has fallen by 93% compared to the same period last year.

Inbound tourism from other major European nations has not fallen as much, with visits from Germany down 57% and France down 32%.

Mr Aouadi said Tunisia does understand that "security comes first", but added: "What we are after is to soften this ban a little bit while working on achieving the best possible situation as far as security is concerned.

"It's not a day job, it's not an overnight job, it's going to take time.

"But at least if the FCO soften this ban it will give a glimpse of hope to that economy, to that country."

Some 440,000 people from the UK visited Tunisia in 2014, according to the Office for National Statistics.

The TNTO said that demand was even higher in the following year, until the attack near Sousse.

Since then 192 hotels - a third of Tunisia's total - have closed, officials said.

On June 26 last year Rezgui opened fire on a beach before entering the Hotel Riu Imperial Marhaba to continue the bloodshed.

Mr Aouadi said the incident was "a big wake-up call" for Tunisia, and since then security has been "visibly" upgraded including more checks on people entering hotels, greater use of weapons scanners and CCTV cameras.

Asked whether the country was now safe for British visitors, he replied: "The Tunisian authorities are implementing the utmost of what they can do towards security within the available means of that tiny country.

"Saying 100% safe would be a lie (as for) anywhere in the world."

An FCO spokesman said: "We know our travel advice can have a knock-on effect on the local economy and political considerations, but we don't let this influence the advice we give. The safety of British nationals is our main concern.

"We are working closely with the Tunisians to understand the terrorist threat better and to help them to strengthen measures to protect tourists further. Our travel advice is under constant review and we will change it as soon as the security situation permits."