Tourism: New strategy to ensure post-COVID revival (ONTT D-G)

November 15, 2020

(Interviewed by Semia Boukhatem-TAP) - The Department of Tourism has devised a strategy to ensure the revival of this activity in the best conditions, after the health crisis of the coronavirus which has hit the tourism sector hard, not only in Tunisia but throughout the world, said Mohamed Moez Belhassine, Director General of the Tunisian National Tourist Office (ONTT), in an interview with TAP.

This strategy is based on several pillars, namely diversification of supply, stimulation of demand, both domestic and international, promotion of investment and sustainability of the sector.

For the ONTT D-G, 'We need to review and rethink everything. The crisis has shown that tourism activity suffers from major structural weaknesses, which we must remedy. We must also lay the foundations for a sustainable transformation of this sector. Our most urgent priority today is to strengthen the resilience of the tourism sector, by implementing the government measures taken in March, including those relating to the facilitation of credit to professionals, so that they can overcome their financial difficulties and thus maintain jobs'.

'Concurrently, we have designed a training programme for tourism staff, with a minimum of wages. The objective is to seize this break, caused by the pandemic, to improve and strengthen the skills of the staff and prepare them for the post-COVID recovery'.

Implementation of revised standards for tourism unit classification in 2021

At the level of the diversification of the offer, Belhassine said that the Office is currently working, in collaboration with the concerned professional federations, on the finalisation of the project of recasting the standards of classification of the tourist accommodation units, so that they are in line with the international standards. 'Launched in 2018, this project, which will lead to the adoption of new regulations for hotel classification, will be ready in 2021'.

'This project aims to encourage hotels to pay more attention and make more effort to improve the quality of their services. It should guarantee the upgrading of Tunisian tourism and boost the competitiveness of hotel units.

In the same context, the ONTT has designed a project to launch an attractive label of tourist quality, whose purpose is to reposition the Tunisia destination on the markets, both for professionals (tour operators ...), as well as for customers,' he said.

Thus, to be certified with the 'Tourism Quality' label, professionals must be able to ensure a courteous welcome, provide clear, up-to-date and reliable information on services, offer a unique service and experience, and be attentive to satisfy all customer expectations.

Besides, the Office has created new ecological, sports and cultural tourist circuits... covering several regions of the country, to offer tourists and Tunisians a variety of products, while promoting new tourist sites in all four corners of the country in addition to the development of night activities and entertainment spaces.

However, the D-G considered that the diversification of the tourist offer must be accompanied by the improvement of the quality of the environment, in order to be able to market Tunisia as a destination on a large scale: 'Although the Ministry of Tourism grants, each year, financial aid to tourist municipalities, through the Fund for the Protection of Tourist Areas, to enable them to improve the cleanliness and the basic infrastructure, as well as to reinforce their means of intervention, the results are still unsatisfactory'.

For this reason, the Department is currently examining the possibility of optimising the granting of subsidies by making them conditional on the completion of major environmental projects by the municipalities concerned, including the establishment of local waste management stations, or membership in an ecological programme such as the Blue Flag programme.

123% increase in tourism investment by 2020

Despite all these difficulties, Tunisia remains an attractive site for investors and major international brands, since the value of investments receiving the final agreement, rose from 491 million dinars (MD) in 2019 to just over 1 billion dinars, until the end of October 2020, which represents an increase of 123%. It is expected, therefore, that new hotel and alternative accommodation units are expected to emerge soon, in several regions of the country,' announced the D-G of ONTT.

This is the result of the efforts of all stakeholders, including private professionals and national organisations. 'In addition, the presence of major international brands in Tunisia, including Radisson, Mariott, Four Seasons, Anantara, Residence, Cicada ... which is, in itself, a kind of promotion for Tunisia, reassuring other brands and investors and encouraging them to come and set up in our territory.

Regarding the strengthening of tourist demand, Belhassine said that the effort targets both local and foreign tourists. 'At the local level, several projects are being finalised, including an agreement that will be signed in the coming days with professional federations, aimed at giving Tunisians discounts when they book their stays'.

We are also working to encourage hoteliers to generalise promotions and free offers for children, and to offer new modes of tourist accommodation that are economical and adapted to the specificities of the Tunisian family'.

Digitalisation and public relations, the spearhead of the tourism promotion strategy

At the international level, efforts to promote Tunisia as a destination are increasingly based on public relations and digitalisation, especially since 'the annual budget allocated to promotion has not even allowed us to carry out a week-long advertising campaign on a European channel such as TF1.

For this year, this budget has not exceeded 49 million dinars, which does not even represent 10% of the amounts mobilised by our competitors, hence the obligation to streamline it, organising effective actions at a lower cost,' he said.

Belhassine said that the ONTT is keen to strengthen its public relations strategy by organising periodic meetings with Tunisian and foreign journalists and influencers. It also follows the trend in the digital, by launching accounts on major social networks, including Facebook, Instagram.... and by designing promotional videos on the particularities of the Tunisia destination, which are broadcast on the various digital channels of the Ministry of Tourism, the Office and on the pages of its various representations abroad.

'The latter play, in turn, a crucial role, even during periods of crisis, such as the one we are currently experiencing, since they work to keep in touch with our partners abroad, including tour operators, media representatives ..., and also to ensure the monitoring and feedback both on the situation in our tourism markets, as well as on the recovery plans adopted by our competitors,' he said.

In the same context, the official indicated that these representations are monitored and assessed yearly on the basis of the assigned objectives, those with unsatisfactory results were automatically closed. And as evidence, the number of ONTT representations abroad has decreased from 36 offices in 2010 to 17 offices currently.


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