Interview: Ahmed Khalaf, General Manager, Four Seasons Hotel Tunisia
How can Tunisia differentiate itself from other countries as a luxury tourism destination?
AHMED KHALAF: Luxury tourists nowadays are looking for more than nice hotels; they demand a unique experience in an authentic setting. Tunisia stands out in this regard, as it is located in the North African riviera, with Mediterranean beaches, a 2000-year history and a very rich cultural experience. However, to fully unlock the potential of luxury tourism, Tunisia needs to invest in infrastructure as a priority. While there is a plethora of historic sites to visit, access to these and the ease of travel to them could be improved. Also, the country needs to develop a complete luxury offering, from fine dining to leisure activities catered to high-end clients.
Lastly, marketing and image are essential to the success of any luxury tourism destination. The nation needs to not only put itself on the radar, but also show how it is different and unique from its regional and global competitors. Luxury tourism is still in its very early stages in Tunisia, so there is still some way to go. To its advantage, travellers always want novelty, so Tunisia has to keep working to change its public perception to become the new luxury hotspot.
To what extent does luxury tourism serve as a catalyst for economic development?
KHALAF: Luxury brand hotels are important tourist destinations in themselves, and tourists flock to certain hotels, regardless of what country or city they are located in. Therefore, establishing globally recognised luxury hotel brands can increase tourist arrivals. The tourists that luxury brands attract are in a higher-income bracket, so they also spend more at their destinations than the average tourist. In fact, luxury consumers spend six times more on travel than average consumers. Furthermore, in recent years luxury travellers have had increasingly large disposable incomes that they are spending on experiences at their destinations. Therefore, attracting high-spending tourists can bring in a significant amount of money. Historically, the country has attracted mass tourism, but shifting to luxury tourism means exponentially larger amounts of money being added to the economy per arrival. Tourism already represents a significant proportion of Tunisia’s GDP, and more luxury tourists will certainly increase tourism revenue, contributing to the overall economic development of the country.
Additionally, the infrastructure surrounding luxury tourism, such as hotels and restaurants, represents a significant amount of investment. Therefore, creating a luxury tourism ecosystem will result in increased job creation and infrastructure upgrades for the country. The Four Seasons alone employs more than 400 Tunisians. After one large luxury tourism brand enters a market, it creates a domino effect and others follow. As Tunisia keeps developing its luxury tourism segment, it will continue to attract more investment and have more opportunities to develop, from Tunis to beach destinations to the interior regions.
What are the main trends in the luxury tourism segment, and how should countries adapt to these?
KHALAF: The main trends disrupting luxury tourism, and the worldwide tourism industry more broadly, are a result of new digital technologies. For hotels, technology can be used to enhance guests’ experiences. Through technology we can better understand guests’ expectations and offer better services. Therefore, countries need to encourage the adoption of new technologies in the tourism industry. It is essential to increasingly cater to the new generation of luxury travellers and millennials. The internet and social media have become new platforms for marketing tourism destinations. Experience sharing is increasingly important and shapes the new generation of consumers’ decisions. Adapting tourism offerings to new customer expectations and needs will be crucial to the development of tourism in not only Tunisia, but also the world.
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