Tunisia is mostly known for its mass-market packaged tourism; however, as the number of European arrivals continues to decline, the coming years will see Tunisia’s luxury hotels undergo a growth spurt as more international chains take over existing hotels and build new properties to attract upmarket travellers.
A variety of international chains catering to a high-end and business clientele are already present, largely in Tunis’ premium neighbourhoods such as Les Berges du Lac, La Marsa and Gammarth. Major hotel chains include Mövenpick, Golden Tulip, Sheraton, Concorde Hotel and Resorts and the Residence. In May 2015 Hilton group signed an agreement with local El Mouradi Hotels and Resorts to take over management of the renowned Hotel Africa, located in downtown Tunis. Part of the agreement stipulates the property rebrand to DoubleTree by Hilton Tunis-Africa as well as a $5m refurbishment process. Additionally, the Four Seasons brand is expected to open its first hotel in Gammarth in late 2017. The 200-room beachfront resort will feature outdoor terraces, a spa and gardens inspired by traditional designs found in the old city.
Adding to the trend, three of Tunisia’s most luxurious hotels were considered for the World Luxury Hotel Awards in July 2016. La Badira hotel in the beachside resort of Hammamet, the Bravo Djerba hotel on the island of Djerba and The One Resort in Monastir were short-listed, a sign that Tunisia’s image is starting to evolve and be recognised for its luxury assets. This image is expected to continue to evolve as Qatari Diar’s 40-ha, five-star, luxury tourism village in the southern oasis town of Tozeur opens in 2019.
Moving On Up
The aforementioned luxury tourism village in Tozeur and the different hotel projects in Tunis are part of the country’s attempts to enhance its luxury tourism offerings and appeal to a new class of tourist. Industry players and public authorities have raised a variety of areas in need of improvement to further support the development of luxury tourism. To start, there has been a push to restructure the country’s hotel star classification system to align it with the norms applied in Europe (see overview). Additionally, some industry players have stated the need to reinforce supporting infrastructure around the tourism industry, namely roads as well as leisure and shopping outlets, to truly attract premium tourists. “To compete with Morocco or Turkey in attracting high-end tourists from the Gulf and parts of Asia, Tunisia needs to develop associated infrastructure,” Selim Hizem, commercial director of the Hotel Concorde, told OBG. “Many of these tourists want access to luxury shopping malls and casinos, on top of a road network in good condition,” he added.
Luxury Medical Packages
Attracting high-end tourism is not solely about shopping. In many ways, medical tourism pairs well with luxury tourism. Indeed, those seeking health care typically pay higher prices for good treatment and comfortable accommodation. To this end, Tunisian developer Carthagea has launched a luxury medical tourism project that aims to convert existing abandoned hotel structures into upmarket care homes for European patients with Alzheimer’s disease. This project aims to open 40 facilities, with the first one opening in October 2016 in the Hôtel Saphir & Spa, located in Hammamet. Ultimately, the project strives to bring 10,000 patients to Tunisia.
Tunisia’s tourism sector is currently undergoing a series of developments to refurbish and improve the supply of luxury hotels and attract high-end clientele. With a visa waiver system for select Chinese and African travellers and attempts to reach out to the Gulf markets, Tunisia is hoping to attract some big spenders. That said, much remains to be done to truly compete with regional high-end destinations. The country needs to focus on investing more in public infrastructure and attracting international brands. Additionally, while catering to existing Gulf and Asian travellers is a must, Tunisia should connect with the emerging class of wealthy tourists from Africa.
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