BERLIN (Reuters) - Tunisia lost about a third of its French tourist bookings to cancellation shortly after the beheading last month of a French traveler by Islamist militants in neighboring Algeria, the country’s tourism minister said on Monday.
Increased political unrest and militant violence in North Africa since the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011 have hit tourism in a region known mainly for its fine Mediterranean beaches and long popular with French travelers.
“Within three days we saw 30 percent of bookings canceled,” Tourism Minister Amel Karboul told journalists on the sidelines of a tourism conference in Berlin. “It’s a shame because October is normally a strong month for tourists from France.”
Tourism accounts for 7 percent of Tunisia’s gross domestic product.
Tunisia is due to hold a parliamentary election on Oct. 26 and a presidential ballot in November. Its relatively peaceful transition towards full democracy after autocrat Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali’s fall to mass protests three years ago has earned Tunisia plaudits as a model for change in the region.
“(But) even if we as a country manage to be 100 percent safe, we are not immune to the effects created by the region we’re in,” Karboul said.
In the first nine months of 2014, tourist arrivals to Tunisia from France, its main source of holidaymakers, were down 6 percent, ministry figures show. Arrivals from Europe as a whole declined 2.1 percent, although overall international arrivals were up 0.2 percent.
To try and reassure tourists and keep Tunisia safe, the government has doubled the number of security forces at the borders, increased checks on those arriving from militant-prone Libya and Algeria and installed more cameras in tourist destinations, according to Karboul.
The Tunis government is also trying to ease visa procedures to encourage tourism from regions such as eastern Europe where travelers are less likely to be deterred by unrest, she added.
Algeria has also stepped up security measures. The state news agency APS said at the weekend that government troops had killed eight suspected militants in the eastern Bouira region while tracking an al Qaeda splinter group that abducted and decapitated French tourist Herve Gourdel.
Reporting by Victoria Bryan; Editing by Mark Heinrich