The UK’s largest tour operator will resume flights to the North African destination on May 1, nearly three years after 33 of its customers were killed in the Sousse beach massacre.
Tui joins Thomas Cook – which will resume Tunisia flights next month – in returning to the destination, alongside specialist operators such as Just Sunshine and Tunisia First. Tunisia should also benefit from an “open skies” deal signed with the EU last month.
Nick Longman, Tui’s UK & Ireland managing director, admitted to TTG in October that the operator could be back in Tunisia by winter 2018 if Cook’s programme was a success. A Cook spokesperson confirmed that Tunisia was trading “as expected” and has made an “encouraging start”.
Sami Tounsi, trade manager at the Tunisian National Tourist Office, said Tui’s announcement came as a “welcome surprise”.
“It’s very good news as nobody was expecting it for the beginning of this year,” Tounsi told TTG. “I think Tui has spotted some demand for Tunisia. I hope the prices will be good to entice people to go.”
Tui’s restored Tunisia programme features four flights per week to Enfidha from Bristol, Manchester, Gatwick and Birmingham, and a small selection of hotels in Hammamet and Yasmine, Hammamet.
“More than the volume, it’s about growing credibility and rebuilding faith in Tunisia for 2018,” added Tounsi. “It’s so important that the two big operators [Cook and Tui], who accounted for 95% of the UK market [before the attack in summer 2015], are back.”
Tui’s move has already encouraged the tourist office to increase its ambitions for UK visitors from 70,000 this year up to 85,000. But there is a long way to go to return to previous visitor levels – 424,000 UK holidaymakers visited the country
Online beach specialist agencies said that demand for Tunisia had been slowly picking up since the FCO lifted its advice against travel to most of the destination in July 2017.
Bill Allen, supply director at On the Beach, told TTG: “It’s been a slow pick-up as it takes time to seep in.
“Tunisia is still an incredibly popular destination. It’s a bit like Turkey – it offers great value for money with good all-inclusive resorts. It’s coming back but it’s restricted by capacity.”
Theo Demetriou, purchasing director of loveholidays, added: “We have seen a small increase in searches and bookings for holidays to Tunisia, particularly for summer holidays in June and July. Bookings remain low compared with other popular destinations but we anticipate some further growth over the next year.”
The new Tunisia-EU “open skies” agreement signed in December should also open the market up for low-cost airlines.
“It will take a couple of years to assess the impact of it,” said Tounsi. “Many airlines have shown some interest but it will be down to demand.”