Interview: Radhouane Ben Salah
What are the main reforms that need carrying out in the tourism sector today?
RADHOUANE BEN SALAH: There is a need to upgrade the existing products in the Tunisian tourism sector. Also, service quality needs improving, and new training centres should be established, in line with the expectations of the modern tourism industry. Existing hotel staff should also be subjected to training programmes annually to ensure their skills are in line with the needs of the industry. In terms of product diversification, accommodation should be made a top priority. Operators should seek to develop small-scale accommodation such as country cottages and guest houses in a bid to diversify its customer base. Residential housing is another important segment that needs to be prioritised. The law will allow hotel owners with available units to offer tourists residential housing for sale. This kind of accommodation would guarantee that customers return regularly to Tunisia, accompanied by family and friends. Last but not least, Tunisia should work towards the conclusion of the open-sky agreement with the EU, enabling European carriers to fly from anywhere in Europe to any airport in Tunisia.
What measures should Tunisia be implementing to promote the country’s image abroad?
BEN SALAH: Recently, countries such as Russia, Germany, Algeria and some Central European countries have shown interest in Tunisia. The promotion of Tunisia in those countries will be done at different levels. To attract visitors from those countries, Tunisia must implement a marketing assistance plan, which is divided into several actions. First of all Tunisia must support air transport to facilitate regular connection with targeted countries. A second action is to do joint advertising with international operators to promote Tunisia internationally. The third action is institutional advertising, which will be focused on new technologies like social networks that can have a great influence on potential customers. Regarding advertising, emphasis will be put on public relations, because this has a greater credibility than institutional advertising. In regards to historical markets, such as the UK, France and Italy, Tunisia will stay active despite current challenges, such as numerous government travel restrictions to the country.
Indeed, it is important for Tunisia to prepare for recovery because governments will remove their travel restrictions when the security issues are solved, trust is regained, and tourist flows resume. To solve the security issue, there is a need to implement a global security system for the country in which there is an emphasis on hospitality units. Security in hotels was not an issue before 2010, but today it must be integrated into the hotels’ grading standards, similar to the systems for hygiene or maintenance.
How can the government ensure that operators have access to enough funding for projects?
BEN SALAH: There is a need to find solutions to the debt issue in the Tunisian tourism sector, especially regarding hotels. The ministry of finance, the central bank and the ministry of tourism are working to implement solutions to solve this problem. Today in Tunisia, there is a need to implement a sector strategy describing the credit line that must be found to offer a sustainable debt and reimbursement scheme for operators. Such a scheme must be adapted to the financial capacity of hotel owners. Credits for operators must come together with a restructuring programme that forces them to implement an upgrade of their hotels in order to make sure that their hotels have the potential to be financially profitable.
The final objective is to make sure that operators have enough funds to reimburse their new debt. Without a restructuring programme for hotel infrastructure, there will be a risk that in a few years operators will run unprofitable, out-of-date hotels.
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