Remember Tunisia? That North-African country blessed with wide sandy beaches, luxury resorts, a mild climate and a flying time from the majority of Europe within 3 hours? A perfect destination and get away until political unrest and civil disorder brought down the public image of the destination. It was topped off with a terrorist attack in June 2015 that killed more than 35 holidaymakers.
The attack, claimed by IS brought tourism to this bustling beach destination to a full stand-still with all major tour operators from all countries pulling their flights and cancelling contracts. For quite a while; Tunisia as a destination was infected. Click here to see pictures from abandoned and empty hotels; this is what a destination image of -100 can do with a, once bustling, destination.
The public image of a destination is extremely important and can have a severe impact on inbound tourism traffic. After the negative image created by all those sad events; Tunisia was left by tourists; tour operators and airlines pulling out and hotels abandoned. It took the Tunisian hotel owners & national tourism boards a lot of efforts and money to get tourism to Tunisia back on track and I wouldn’t be surprised if big incentives are offered to various tour operators and airlines to restart flights and holidays.
A sadder example is how the negative public image of a region can impact a destination basically unaffected by the negativity. The perfect example is Jordan: Jordan used to be a big destination; combining the seaside resorts of Aqaba (and to a lesser extent, the Dead Sea) with history and culture of Petra, Jerash and the city life of bustling metropolis Amman. (Go; its a lovely destination).
Right before my departure to this country in 2015, lots of people asked me “Is it safe there?” (not knowing the safety level stated at that time by the Dutch ministry of foreign affairs was the same as the one for France). During my stay, I came across deserted hotels and resorts and lots of near-bankrupt tourism entrepreneurs who were desperate for business.
After doing some research I figured out the drop in tourism was caused by the civil war in Syria and political unrest in “the Arabic World”. And even though Jordan was fully safe; tourism was a no go.
How to measure your image and to improve it?
So destinations that struggle with an image problem should try to fix it, right? I was reading into the subject when I stumbled across a paper written by R. Rajesh, published in the PASOS; Journal of Tourism and Cultural Heritage. His analysis is interesting and, even though published in 2013, still very much applicable (also to destinations that are not coping with a negative image yet (Amsterdam; you bunch of ignorant a**holes, are you reading this?)).
Look at his figure below or read the whole paper here (its worth it).
I’m missing one important factor in the study; safety! Its there but has a very small role. In my opinion; a new version should incorporate safety in a much heavier factor. These days, (and probably less important in 2013), safety has a strong impact. I did a small N=3 research with people around me; After asking people I found out safety concerns are big influencers.
“If it doesn’t feel safe I’m not going. Period“, “If I’m not sure its safe I won’t book” is the main message given to me by some of the people I talked to.
Whats safety though? Is Paris as unsafe as Jordan or are other factors influencing the “safety feeling of visitors here?”
Back to Tunisia; tourists are returning and TUI has relaunched flights from many of its markets. Also, Thomas Cook Netherlands is coming back and starts this winter with two flights a week to Enfidha. They probably also read Rajesh’ paper: “Because Tunisia hasn’t received a lot of tourists in the past years and because we want to ensure a smooth introduction we are currently training a lot of local employees on durability, customer satisfaction, hygiëne and quality“.
In sinceraly hope it stays quiet, relaxed and safe in Tunisia so that tourism can flourish again!