Tunisian Tourism. What’s Gone Wrong?
Said undid the canvas straps at the front of his stall, carried his stands outside and carefully arranged all his ceramics, bags, shoes, and jewellery over them.
He dusted the sand off everything, pulled out his chair, and sat down to wait for customers.
At lunchtime, he carried the stands back inside and tied up the front of his stall. Maybe the customers will come this afternoon.
After his lunch, he returned and went through the setting-up ritual again. And in the evening he packed it all away again. Tomorrow would be better.
Said’s proud of his stall. It’s in a prime position in the car park below the beautiful blue and white town, Sidi Bou Said, a couple of kilometres from Carthage, which is a photographer’s fantasy!
He used to make a lot of money from the tourists, but now the tourists have stopped coming and Said has a high rent and electricity bills to pay, and he doesn’t know how much longer he can survive.
A few miles away, outside the ancient site of Carthage, where Hannibal came from, half a dozen stallholders stand in the empty road. Their faces lit up when they saw me. They all greeted me with big smiles.
Behind them you can look over the wall and view the ruins, and to the right, at the end of the road, is the clear, deep blue sea.
Unlike a lot of tourists, I don’t speak rudely to anyone. I stopped and chatted in French to each of them.
One man offered me a plastic necklace with the Hand of Fatima on it for 15 Dinars. Fatima was Mohammed’s daughter. I was a bit cross and said that was ridiculous!
As I walked away, he rushed behind me, desperate. He offered me a ceramic bowl with the necklace and a keyring in it. ‘Here, take them. Five dinars for the lot!’
There are roughly three dinars to the £, the $ or the euro. (Sorry, I haven’t got a Euro symbol on my keyboard.)
I paid him the five dinars. It was ridiculously cheap. I’m sure I can give them away as presents.
Across the empty road, Walid beckoned me over. ‘Please come, look at my shop. Looking is free.’
It had rained in the night and there were cloths on the floor. Walid tipped the rainwater out of pots, shoes, etc as he held up his wares. He didn’t complain.
‘Look, Berber style,’ he said.
As I walked out, he asked, ‘Where you from?’
‘England,’ I told him.
He smiled even more. ‘Oh, England. Thomas Cook, very good.’ He spread out his arms, indicating the empty street. ‘Why they no come here now?’
Here very good!’
I had to go to our minibus as the others were glaring at me, eager to leave.
Frantically, Walid swept his hand across his ceramics. ‘Look only one dinar each,’ he pleaded.
They were lovely. I quickly picked up five painted bowls. ‘Quick, I’ve got to go!’ I told him.
He ran into his shop and grabbed some paper. I handed him a 10 dinar note and had to wait longer as he didn’t have any change. He ran over to the other stallholders who managed to raise the change between them.
The glares on the minibus increased, but I didn’t care. I was happy with my purchase and Walid had possibly his only customer of the day – or maybe longer!
So why has the Tunisian tourism dried up?
There have been terrible terrorist attacks in London, Paris and Nice among other places, but they’re still packed with tourists.
Tunisia is a lovely country. Prices are cheap, the scenery’s exciting and varied, food’s fresh and local, the people are laid-back, welcoming and friendly, the weather’s perfect; hot but not too hot in the daytime and cooler at night, the hotels are clean and modern, and it’s a shopper’s Paradise!
I’ve seen a lot of it in two visits, and I’m going back again in February, to the Sounds of the Sahara music festival.
Tunisair operates six flights per week in winter and one flight per day in summer from London Heathrow and Gatwick to Tunis, prices start from £250, including taxes. Internal flights with Tunisair Express operate three times a day from Tunis to Djerba prices start from £100, including taxes and one time a day from Tunis to Tozeur prices start from £35, including taxes. For reservations call 020 85649597 or 0207 7347644 or go to www.tunisair.com
For all your travel needs and for information on what’s happening in Tunisia go to www.discovertunisia.uk