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Tunisia Lures More Chinese Tourists After Visa Exemption
Tunisia, a North African country rich in tourism resources, has become an attractive destination after it decided to exempt entry visas for Chinese citizens since mid-February.
The Director General of the Tunisian National Tourist Board Abdellatif Hmam
The Director General of the Tunisian National Tourist Board (ONTT), Abdellatif Hmam,
gives a media interview on January 23, 2017 in the capital Tunis.
Tunisia, a North African country rich in tourism resources, has become an attractive destination after it decided to exempt entry visas for Chinese citizens since mid-February.

While the Chinese market is a potential and a strong growth, Tunisia is preparing in equipment and in service to host the Chinese clients better since they are considered as a market of hope.

On Feb. 16, Tunisia announced the visa exemption for Chinese citizens in condition that they purchase a round-trip plane ticket and a valid hotel voucher for a period not exceeding 90 days.

Wu Wenzhao, who arrived to Tunis from Beijing for a business trip, is among the first beneficiaries of this policy.

"I left the Chinese border easily after taking the boarding pass at the airline's airport counter," she said, "and it was less than a minute to enter the Tunisian territory after the landing."

The visa exemption facilitates for the Chinese to visit this country with a history of 3000 years and a colorful culture. "We can leave immediately if we have a travel plan," said Zhang Tong, a tourist from Tianjin who is participating in a circuit trip in Tunisia.

In the eyes of Guo Wei, Ms. Zhang's colleague, the cost performance is quite high the trip to Tunisia, on one hand of its charming nature, and on the other hand its multicolored culture and its multi-civilization history.

"It is located between the Mediterranean and the Sahara Desert. You can enjoy the beach, the forest, the oasis and also the mountains. In addition, one can also visit the sites from the Carthaginian, Roman, Arab, Osmanli empires and the French colonization sites," she said.

Despite its extraordinary tourist resources, following three bloody attacks that killed more than 70 victims, most of whom are foreign tourists, Tunisia has experienced in recent years a difficult period for this sector, previously considered as a vector of growth with a share close to 7 percent of GDP.

This country has gradually catch its breath since 2016, when more than 5.7 million tourists landed in Tunisia against 5.3 million in 2015.

According to Fang Yi, a manager of the China International Travel Service (CITS) in Shanghai office, those World Cultural Heritage sites in Tunisia are an asset for its tourism industry. The cultural and traditional activities would also appeal to tourists who seek exoticism and mystery.

"Thanks to its mild and humid Mediterranean climate, Tunisia could become a tourist destination in winter when it is cold in Europe, the traditional destination for Chinese", added Mrs. Fang.

Like their Chinese counterparts, Tunisian travel agencies are always ready to expand their business in the Chinese market, especially after the visa exemption.

Tunisia Welcome Service (TWS) has started its business with the Chinese clients since 2000. According to the Director General Samir Meddeb, TWS welcomed about 2000 Chinese tourists in 2016, "a year of good start." Today, the Chinese market accounts for almost half of its total turnover.

"Chinese guests are much different from the European guests who prefer taking advantage of the hotel service. But the Chinese customers have a desire to discover the history and the culture and even the gastronomy. In addition, the Chinese have a strong purchasing power and a demand for quality and private service."

Regarding this year's growth in the Chinese market, Mr. Meddeb gave a conservative estimate. "Our objective is to grow 20 percent, or 2,500 Chinese customers in 2017. We are going step by step."

However, according to Nabil Hedhiri, the head of division and Public Relations Coordinator of the Tunisian National Tourism Office (ONTT), the Chinese market would double this year, keeping the same growth as last year.

From January to December 2016 - compared with the same period in 2015 - the Tunisian tourism growth concerning the Chinese market reached 93.6 percent, or 7,396 tourists.

"Personally, I think we can count on an annual increase and keep the same trend, given the average recorded over the last few years," M.Hedhiri estimated.

Yin Gang, a resident of Tianjin, has just finished his six-day trip to Tunisia. According to him, despite the warm reception and the friendly population, the Tunisian tourism industry should improve in the details of its service to better meet the Chinese customers needs.

"On the tourist sites, we didn't find signs in English or in Chinese language, which prevent us to understand it," he said, adding that hotels should provide hot water and Chinese cuisine to its Chinese customers whose habits are different from those Europeans.

"These details can actually improve customer satisfaction," Mr. Yin concluded.

As a representative of the Chinese travel agency Saishang Tour, Yasmine Tsai believed that the language barrier remains the primary concern for Chinese tourists and especially for individuals, as most Tunisian service personnel speak only French or Arab.

In addition, the poor public transport restricts individual tourists access to several tourist sites that worth a visit, Tsai added.

M. Hedhiri told Xinhua that his country had made a lot of efforts to boost the Chinese market.

"The Tunisian touristic product must be adapted to the expectations of the Chinese without forgetting the training of the guides in Chinese language and the hotel professionals in Chinese gastronomy," he confirmed.

In this sense, Mr. Hedhiri mentioned a close cooperation between the tourism institute of Sousse (the main seaside province on the east coast of the country) and a hotel school in Ningxia, China.

Tunisia has also launched an ambitious goal to serve as a hub between China and the African continent, one of its main partners, through the establishment of a direct airline.

"Our Chinese counterparts are increasingly convinced of our short, medium and long-term vision," Hedhiri said, insisting that his country could play the role of a hub for Chinese airlines to well explore the African market, whose assets can do good to the Chinese economic interests."
  Source: Xinhua

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