More than six million tourists are coming to Tunisia this year, more than in 2014, before a series of devastating attacks: but if tourism rebounded, the economic benefits do not follow, between poor management, competition, and difficulty in repatriating foreign currency.
The tourism revenues in euros increased by 28% year on year, from 1 January to 20 September, to eur 1 billion, for 6.2 million tourists, according to the tunisian government.
This is more tourists than the whole of the year 2014 (6,07) but, at the same time, less than two-thirds of the income earned in that year (1,59 billion euros).
“It leaves a number of visitors, but +cash flow+, it is far from the account,” says a senior executive of the STB, one of the main tunisian banks, troubled by the massive debt of the hotel.
The STB, public bank massively able to recapitalise in 2015, lagging behind $ 1.7 billion of dinars of debts of the hotel. All in all, they still have 4.4 billion dinars (1.4 billion euros) to banks in the aggregate.
These claims prevent the institutions indebted to contract new loans to modernize.
“One-third of the tourism offer is not economically viable, it is necessary to purify the sector,” says the same source, noting that the average income per room is three times lower in Tunisia than in Morocco.
– Recovery –
The hotel has been developed at a brisk pace in the 1990s under the regime of Zine el Abidine Ben Ali. The banks have lent largely to notable they launch their hotel, giving birth to a multitude of facilities are often poorly managed.
Since 2015, a circular that allowed banks not to make provision for non-performing loans for tourist operators.
It was to ease the pressure on these key actors of the economy, in the wake of attacks against the main museum of Tunis (the Bardo) and a seaside resort of Sousse, which had killed 60 people and resulted in a sharp drop in tourism.
But this facility has not been renewed this year.
“A credit, it will pay for itself, (and) the time has come for this”, underlines the director general of STB, Samir Saied. “As much as we have been flexible, as we are going to be very demanding on the refund”, pounds-t-it.
A bet complicated: the STB regrets an average duration of court proceedings over seven years.
“It is a sector being well looked after by the State. When a bank is going to sue a hotel, it never ceases to remind us that it is the tourism that gives life to 800.000 families…”, writes a part of a tunisian-French bank.
A white paper has been developed with the tunisian Federation of hospitality (FTH) to purify the debts, but he still has not been approved by the government.
The depreciation of the dinar, if it makes the destination Tunisia more attractive, also weighs on the economic effects of tourism are calculated in a foreign currency.
– Fraud –
In addition, a fierce competition weakens the hotels of medium and low ranges.
They have little bargaining power in the face of tour operators, whose charter flights are the only way to overcome the lack of regular flights, points to the FTH, that calls for the opening up to competition of air traffic, a sea serpent in Tunisia.
After 2011, “we have not been able to take advantage of the crisis (tourism) to renew the offer”, underlines Mouna Ben Halima, deputy secretary general of the FTH, lamenting that the three-quarters of european tourists come to Tunisia via organized tours.
A handful of interim committees, in addition, a large share of the profits of the owners are unable to treat themselves with foreign tour operators, highlights the STB.
And some patrons of the hotels are suspected of fraud, placing in Europe or in the land a portion of their earnings.
“Legally, the profits must be repatriated within the tunisian banks, but it is known that part of the money stays elsewhere”, explains the framework of the STB.
For the hotels that are earning valuable foreign currency, these funds are subject to strict regulations, applied in a way that is particularly burdensome by the central bank in recent months, as reserves are at their lowest.
“Some will not repatriate funds, it avoids both taxation and restrictions on currency movements,” explains a specialist in foreign exchange markets.
In addition, a black market rate juicy attracts at least 30% of foreign currencies according to him –including the majority of those changed manually from the hotels or shops by tourists.