How Tunisia is using US funds to expand its tourism brand


Skift grip

The sustainable planning phase of Tunisia’s destination marketing renaissance—the easy part—is over. Implementing the plan is where the real work will begin.

Dawit Habtemariam

The US government is trying to help Tunisia develop a multi-faceted destination brand that captures its diverse offerings and integrates community stakeholders. This journey has come with obstacles from well-established players, a historic beach image and a developing tourist infrastructure.

In February, the US government injected $50 million into Tunisia’s tourism sector through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) under a five-year project called “Visit Tunisia”.

The objective of the project is to promote this North African country of 12 million inhabitants as a quality tourist destination with diversified offers, to increase the number of tourists throughout the year and to create new source markets. One of the main targets is for the country to attract 11.5 million tourist arrivals by 2026.

USAID, an independent agency of the US federal government, does not generally assist global destinations with tourism marketing. In Tunisia’s case, the agency has been investing in its economic and political development since its 2011 revolution, which toppled longtime President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. “It was seen as an opportune time to see what the future of tourism in Tunisia might look like,” said Mackenzie Mackenzie, Head of Visit Tunisia’s Destination Marketing Team.

The Tunisian brand is traditionally a seaside destination. “Tunisia has a strong tourism heritage after years of promotion, particularly in European markets, as a sun and sand destination,” Mackenzie said.

Tunisia’s National Tourist Office has offices around the world that build on that image, Mackenzie said. Travelers from the “budget side of the market” come to the country for its coastal beaches and resorts during the summer season.

“Unfortunately, the largest number of people coming to Tunisia come for the resorts,” said Chaker Abichou, country manager of Overseas Adventure Travel Tunisia. He expects 90% of tourists who traveled to the destination this year to be here for Sousse and other popular resorts located on the north and east coasts of the country.

USAID’s goal is to increase the number of flexible, independent, and younger travelers already exploring the country. “We look at what they do and what they see,” Mackenzie said. These travelers go beyond the beach and go on motorcycle tours, camping in the Sahara, hiking adventures, staying in local guesthouses and exploring local experiences.

The marketing ambition comes as Tunisia bounces back after 11 difficult years since its revolution. During this period, the tourism sector has experienced civil unrest, terrorist attacks and Covid-19. “It’s been a triple whammy for the industry,” Mackenzie said.

In 2015, a mass shooting killed 38 people in the tourist resort of Port El Kantahoui, Tunisia has been under a state of emergency since 2015. The security situation has improved significantly over the past decade, Abichou said. He said tourist feedback on safety has been very positive.

Even so, the United States, United Kingdom, France and Germany have warned their citizens to be careful when traveling in the country and not to visit certain countries explicitly due to terrorist activities. .

Tunisia has untapped potential to attract the flexible and independent traveler market. The destination is home to famous battle sites, well-preserved Roman ruins and other civilizations, popular movie locations like Star Wars, mountains, Sahara, religious sites, rich culture and more. Communities just need help to build on those strengths, MacKenzie said.

USAID sought to attract tour operators focused on experiential and adventure travel. It has partnered with the Smithsonian Institution to develop the destination’s cultural heritage. Investments in visitor infrastructure for cultural and archaeological sites like better roads, hiking trails and country walks are also planned.

The agency focused on six communities for more targeted destination development. “They generally don’t have a destination marketing organizational structure,” Mackenzie said. “We look at how we work with destinations, innovate and leverage the capacity of those communities. If it won’t be a DMO, what will it be? »

Working with industry and community stakeholders to develop sustainable models engulfed the first year of the project. “Virtually the first year was spent on stakeholder engagement,” Mackenzie said.

The agency wants to avoid the common mistake international development agencies make of not developing a plan that lasts longer than their release. “A lot of times the experts come in, come up with a plan, they leave, and the plan stays put,” Mackenzie said. With input from stakeholders, plans have been made to develop visitor infrastructure and promotional efforts.

USAID’s work in year one highlights the Skift 2022 megatrend “Communities are no longer traveling spectators.”

One stakeholder group that has been difficult to work with is the mainstream resort community. Many in the group view the attempted marketing diversification as “a diversion away from our daily bread, resort tourism,” said Chris Seek, CEO of Solimar International, a sustainable tourism consultancy that works with USAID on Visit Tunisia.

Resort players have a lot of influence and power in the country’s tourism industry, said Abichou of Overseas Adventure Travel Tunisia.

“We have to constantly try to remind them that it’s not about turning away,” added Seek of Solimar. “It’s about making your destination more competitive because you have things other beaches don’t offer.”


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