Tunisia Attack Could Be 'Nail in the Coffin' for Tourism

by Rob Lovitt /  / Updated 

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Even as the human toll of Friday’s terror attack in Sousse, Tunisia, is being determined, it’s already clear that the impact on the country’s tourism-driven economy will be severe. Coming on the heels of the May attack on the Bardo National Museum in Tunis, experts suggests that tourism — and the sites, travel businesses and local residents that rely on it — will suffer the effects for years to come.

“The Bardo attack was absolutely designed to hit a site that [foreign travelers] would visit and I’m sure the Sousse economy is built on tourism,” said cultural-heritage consultant Peter Herdrich, founding partner of The Heritas Group, in Washington, D.C.

“Even the most adventurous tourist is going to think twice before visiting a heritage site in Tunisia when they realize tourists are coming under attack.”

“Even the most adventurous tourist is going to think twice before visiting a heritage site in Tunisia when they realize tourists are coming under attack.”

Tour operators are already feeling the chill.

“We’re all very much shocked and saddened by the recent events but since the [Bardo] attack, Tunisia has not been a destination that has been selling particularly well,” said Kirsty Perring, Africa and Middle East product manager for Goway Travel in Toronto. “We’ve certainly seen a decline in the number of inquiries that are coming through for the country.”

So much so, in fact, that Perring says the company is considering leaving the country out of the next edition of its Africa and Middle East travel planner.

Jerry Sorkin, president and founder of TunisUSA in Wayne, Pa., is even more blunt. Speaking from Tunis, the Tunisian capital, he said the latest attack “will help put the nail in the coffin for Tunisia’s tourism at least for the next year or so; we have three groups coming in October alone and I’m bracing myself to hear their calls.”

Should those clients cancel they’ll contribute to a drop in tourism that Sorkin estimates at 50 percent or more since the country’s Jasmine Revolution in 2011. And tourism is the engine that allows the country to maintain its cultural and heritage sites, such as the Bardo Museum, Sousse Medina and Carthage, in the first place.

"When the number of tourists drops, the government isn’t collecting the money it needs to manage the sites."

“When the number of tourists drops, the government isn’t collecting the money it needs to manage the sites,” said Herdrich. “That means they can’t pursue efforts in regard to security, scholarship, of making sites more amenable to visitors.”

For Sorkin, the situation is made even sadder because it will likely tarnish Tunisia’s reputation as a unique destination, a haven of sorts for travelers concerned about unrest in Egypt, Libya and other Middle Eastern countries.

“Tunisia has always been fortunate to be kind of separate from these other countries but many Americans look at the region as a whole and don’t make distinctions,” he told NBC News.” Using one brush for the whole region has already led to a decline in Tunisia’s tourism and will continue to do so.”

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