Egypt, Tunisia tout revolutions as tourism draw

10th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

Beaches, ancient sites, guaranteed sun -- and a tang of revolution in the air: Egypt and Tunisia are banking on their recent unrest to pull back the tourists that deserted them as the turmoil raged.

Egypt has trebled its presence this year at the world's biggest tourism fair in Berlin, with pharaonic busts alongside mock-ups of Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the revolution that toppled President Hosni Mubarak last month.

The slogan at the stand: "Come and see the place it all happened."

"Egypt is already a must-see destination for its history and its natural beauty but now there is a new element," said Hisham Zaazou, from the country's tourism ministry.

"We invite tourists to share the experience of a democratic revolution. The values of the revolution are also European values. If Europeans want to help Egypt, they should come and see us," added Zaazou.

A few halls along at the vast fair, Tunisia is also doing its best in the wake of its revolution to draw tourists to its shores and away from the beaches of Spain, Greece and Italy.

"I have come to suggest to the German people that they come and experience the emotion in Tunisia" before it becomes "a classical democracy," said Mehdi Houas, the country's tourism minister.

"This electric shock (the revolution) should encourage a whole new minority group of tourists to come," he added, saying Tunisia was targeting "cultured citizen" tourists.

Houas pledged Tunisia would build new infrastructure outside the coastal resorts, saying: "Before, tourists would park themselves on the beach, far away from reality."

Nevertheless, the beach and the sun would remain the "backbone" of Tunisian tourism, said the head of the country's tourism board, Habib Ammar.

Those at the coal face of the tourism industry have already started to adapt their campaigns to a post-revolution reality.

"Tahrir Square was already a must-see, because the Egyptian Museum is there," said Mahmoud Zekri, from Zekri Tours.

"But from now on, guides will also show people where the protesters erected their tents and where supporters of the old regime charged into them on camels," he added.

However, despite the marketing offensive, both countries are realistic and are under few illusions that 2011 will be a cloudy year in terms of tourism revenue.

Tunisia has already seen a 45-percent drop in tourists since the beginning of the year and Zaazou said things would only get back to normal in Egypt "from the summer."

Mohamed Abdo, who organises cruises along the River Nile, told AFP: "It's too early to get tourists back. The country is not yet stable enough."

An opinion apparently shared by Costa Croisieres, leader of the European cruise sector, which has offered alternative trips to all its Egypt holidaymakers in 2011.

Although authorities insist both nations are safe to visit, Tunisia's Houas acknowledged that the image of his country could be "mixed up" in the unrest in other parts of the region, notably Libya.

"If a German sees that on television, how is he supposed to tell the difference between Tunisia and Libya?" he asked.

© 2011 AFP

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