Security

25 September 2015, Tunisia’s tourism sector collapses after hotel attack

On 25 September, The Guardian reported that Tunisia’s tourism sector had collapsed in the wake of the 26 June attack on the Hotel Riu Imperial Marhaba in Sousse.

Scores of governments have published travel warnings and no-go advisories for Tunisia, and tour agencies have abandoned it as a holiday location. The numbers of British tourists in 2015 are predicted to drop as much as 90% from 2014. That year brought 420,000 British citizens to Tunisia. ABC News says that tourism from the European Union has already decreased 50%.

The Guardian furthermore reports that as many as 26 hotels in Sousse have closed since the attack. Some 50 of Tunisia’s 600 hotels have closed, countrywide, and the RIU chain is currently in talks with the operators of its nine properties in Tunisia regarding the future of the company there.

Radhouane Ben Salah, head of the Tunisian Hotel Federation, told the press that RIU would begin withdrawing from Tunisia on 30 September. Exactly what and how many properties will be impacted has yet to be revealed.

Tunisia’s tourism minister says the country lost one million tourists this year, reports The Telegraph. Its usual tourism count is five million.

From dismal press accounts and photographs of empty beaches and closed hotels, it could be that the number of tourists to Tunisia has dropped even lower. It is a critical GDP sector, and the government is unlikely to highlight and therefore “quasi-promote” its drop in tourism due to terrorism. That would be bad for business. It is not uncommon for governments to do this, however. The Thai government, for example, just after Bangkok’s worst ever bombing at the Erawan Shrine on 17 August (20 killed, 125 wounded), blamed criminal syndicates and wholly discounted terrorism in order to maintain its tourism industry.

Ultimately, the Sousse, Tunisia attack represents a clear case of how terrorism disproportionately impacts the hotel and tourism sector. One man imbued with religious fanaticism armed with an AK-47 and a few homemade bombs not only murdered 59 people and wounded many more; he also singlehandedly murdered a country’s tourism sector.

How did this happen? Simply put, the government of Tunisia did not do enough to protect the tourism sector, and hotels and tourism companies did not do enough to protect their patrons.

All this occurred because neither of these two entities conducted effective threat analyses (terrorism risk assessments, specifically) that did indeed foreshadow the threat (see Muir Analytics’ security piece warning the hotel industry about threats in Tunisia here.) Muir Analytics has done additional cursory research of the Tunisian security environment for the months prior to the attack and found multiple indicators of the looming danger. The threat demanded increased security.

If there happened to have been a cogent government or hotel/tourism sector threat analysis published before the attack, no one acted on it.

This case reeks of negligence.

Sources and further reading:

Tourists desert Tunisia after June terror attack,” The Guardian, 25 September 2015.

Tunisia sees a million fewer tourists after terror attacks,” The Telegraph, 22 September 2015.

Tunisia Tourism Slumps, Spanish Chain Considers Pullout,” ABC News, 21 September 2015.

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