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Tunisia Tourism: Ambassador Urges FCO To Relax Travel Warning

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Tuesday, May 24th, 2016
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Tunisian officials have urged the UK government to relax its advice warning against all but essential travel to the country, after a 90% drop in British visitors in the first part of 2016.

The guidance has been in place since 31 British holidaymakers were killed in two terror attacks in Tunisia in 2015.

The Tunisian ambassador to the UK said the government should take into account security improvements since last year.

The Foreign Office said the safety of British nationals was its main concern.

Thirty Britons were among 39 killed when a gunman opened fire on tourists in a beach resort near Sousse on Tunisia’s Mediterranean coast last June.

UK tour operators stopped all package holidays to Tunisia in July following a change in travel advice from the Foreign Office, which still says further terrorist attacks are “highly likely”.

However, ambassador Nabil Ammar, who himself comes from Sousse, told BBC local radio there was now a gap between the “perception of the level of security, and the real security on the ground”.

‘Terrorists neutralised’

“Every week terrorist cells are dismantled. Terrorists are arrested or neutralised. This should give a positive image, not a negative one.

“If you take statistics, you have much less chance to die in Tunisia or to have any harm in Tunisia than so many countries close to us.”

Mr Ammar said he respected the UK Foreign Office, but it should not allow “the impression that this is not a safe country, and take into account all the progress made” in security.

He said he had never seen Tunisia’s beaches so empty of tourists, and it was severely hurting the country’s economy.

“Part of the solution against violence and terrorism is to have a good economy”, he said, adding that he wanted the tragedy suffered by both the UK and Tunisia as a result of the terror attacks to “make us two people closer, not separate us at all”.

Figures from the Tunisian Tourist Board show a fall of more than 90% in UK visitors for the first four months of this year compared with the similar period a year ago.

Between January and April 2015, Tunisia saw 84,225 visitors from the UK, but just 5,980 in the first four months of this year.

While the current warning is in place, most travel insurance policies will be invalid for those who plan to travel to the country.

‘Half-empty beaches’

BBC News reporter Emily Unia, reporting from Sousse, said: “While I have been here I have felt safe – there is a fairly visible police presence in Sousse, people say that security has increased a lot.

“Most large buildings like hotels and shops now have security arches and bag checks so they are taking their responsibilities very, very seriously.

“But the truth is that the hotels and the beaches are half empty.”

The Foreign Office says there are no direct flights between the UK and Monastir airport, to the south of Sousse, and Enfidah airport, to the north.

But there are daily Tunis Air flights from Tunis Carthage airport direct to London and indirect daily departures with European carriers.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We know our travel advice can have a knock-on effect on trade and political considerations, but we don’t let this influence the advice we give. The safety of British nationals is our main concern.

“We are working closely with the Tunisians to understand the terrorist threat better and to help them to strengthen measures to protect tourists further.

“Our travel advice is under constant review and we will change it as soon as the security situation permits.”

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