Tunisia Woos Tourists with Controversial Ads

The Guardian: With tourism in crisis since the revolution, Tunisia is trying to woo back British and other European holidaymakers with a controversial advertising campaign mocking its post-revolution reputation.

Fresh to London buses after gracing the Paris metro, the ads include a woman being massaged and the line "They say that in Tunisia some people receive heavy-handed treatment". Another shows an archaeological site captioned: "They say Tunisia is nothing but ruins".

Ad executives said they were playing on misplaced fears. Tunisia's tourism minister has argued that despite Tunisia's state of emergency, tourists are not in danger and the country is a safer than South Africa.

Ben Ali's police state, under which local Tunisians who did not work in tourism were banned from talking to foreigners, did not dent the attraction of the country's Mediterranean beaches. But the revolution has cut tourist numbers by half to 3.5 million this year. The summer season has been described as "catastrophic", with elderly people and families staying away, and the usual influx of Libyan tourists seeking shopping and medical care has evaporated, replaced with a refugee crisis in the south.

Coastal areas where the local economy depends on tourism, such as Hammamet, Djerba and Sousse, have been badly hit, with hotels closing, worsening Tunisia's unemployment crisis. Tourism is a key source of income for Tunisia, accounting for 6.5% of its gross domestic product. It employs one in five Tunisians, directly and indirectly.

Local economists say the country should use the crisis to diversify into eco-tourism and higher-end holidays – Tunisia had become a cut-price destination where local hoteliers felt ruled by ruthless tour operators.


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