As more international visitors are returning, Tunisia, a country with "Africa at its most Mediterranean and Arabia at its most cosmopolitan," is becoming more boisterous than in the previous two years of COVID-19 lockdown.
by Xu Supei, Ayten Laamar
TUNIS, May 28 (Xinhua) -- With sunglasses on her head, French tourist Bernadette Burlet is sitting on a bench and enjoying the Mediterranean sea views in Sidi Bou Said, a coastal town well known for its extensive use of blue and white in northern Tunisia.
This is her first overseas trip after the COVID-19 pandemic started in early 2020.
"It's natural to feel anxious during the pandemic. After all the stress, I decided to travel to Tunisia, a beautiful country not far from France," Burlet told Xinhua.
Jeff Morel came to Tunisia for a week-long family vacation. The father of two said he fell in love with the North African country when he first visited it in 2012.
"Coming to Tunisia means finding beautiful landscapes, fabulous beaches, delicious food, and interesting customs and traditions," Morel said.
With more tourists visiting, Sidi Bou Said, among other Tunisian tourist destinations, is becoming more boisterous than in the previous two years.
"Sitting at the northernmost bulge of North Africa and thrusting toward Europe, Tunisia is Africa at its most Mediterranean and Arabia at its most cosmopolitan," American writer Gerald Zarr commented about the country, which has been an attractive destination for tourists since the beginning of the 1960s.
Tunisia's tourism industry attracted around 7.1 million visitors annually in the five years before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to data processing company Knoema, travel and tourism contributed 16.1 percent to the country's gross domestic product (GDP) in 2019.
The COVID-19 pandemic dealt a severe blow to the tourism sector, the revenue of which in 2020 plunged by 65 percent to around 746 million U.S. dollars compared to that of 2019.
When the public health crisis eased, the Tunisian government began to relax travel restrictions and launch more campaigns to promote tourism.
As of April 20, over one million foreign tourists have visited the country this year, marking a rise of 128 percent compared to the same period in 2021, Tunisian Tourism Ministry reported earlier this month.
Meanwhile, driven by the growth in the tourism and agriculture sectors, Tunisia's economy grew by 2.4 percent in the first quarter of this year.
While the tourism sector's performance in recent months has fueled hopes of a more rapid recovery, it remains uncertain whether tourism will return to pre-pandemic levels in the country, which has been caught up in a prolonged political crisis.
Tunisia's Bardo National Museum, which has one of the world's largest collections of mosaics, has been closed for nearly one year due to security concerns, as it is housed in the same complex as the Tunisian Parliament, which was suspended by President Kais Saied on July 25, 2021.
Mohamed Dhafer, who has been selling handicrafts in Sidi Bou Said since 2006, complained that his business was not as good as it used to be before the pandemic, like so many other Tunisians in the tourism industry.
"Many owners have to close their shops due to the lack of tourists. I hope this season isn't as bad as the last one," he said.