In Tunisia's tourist heartland, anxious wait after attack

Mon Mar 23, 2015 3:54pm EDT
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By Patrick Markey and Tarek Amara

YASMIN HAMMAMET, Tunisia (Reuters) - The European visitors strolling Tunisia's Hammamet resort are an encouraging sign for a government determined to minimize the fallout of last week's shooting of 20 tourists in the nearby capital.

But there is anxiety about the future in the five-star hotels, trinket shops and restaurants in the town, where horse-drawn carts trot calmly in the Mediterranean sun.

Japanese, Spanish, Italian and Colombian tourists were among the victims when at least two gunmen opened fire on their buses as they arrived at the Tunis Bardo Museum, which houses some of the Roman artifacts that are one of Tunisia's major draws.

Tourism minister Salma Loumi said the impact from the attack appeared limited so far, with a few cancellations but words of encouragement from travel agency and tour company partners for the north African country's mostly package-holiday bookings.

Six million tourists, mostly Europeans, hit Tunisia's yellow sand beaches, desert treks and medina souks last year, providing seven percent of its gross domestic product, most of its foreign currency revenues and more jobs than anything but farming.

The attackers clearly aimed to cut this lifeline.

"They wanted to hit us through our economic backbone," Loumi told Reuters. "But they won't succeed."

Her ministry's figures show visitors numbers have yet to catch up with the years before the Arab Spring uprising that toppled Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali and ushered in an uncertain period of political transition.   Continued...

Tourists are seen in a coffee shop in Sidi Bou Said, a tourist destination, on the outskirts of the capital Tunis March 22, 2015. REUTERS/Anis Mili