Moez Kacem, academic and tourism specialist, at La Presse: “The domestic market, a real target in the crosshairs”

According to the WHO, tourism is the sector most affected by the unprecedented health crisis linked to the covid-19 epidemic. And in order to save this strategic sector and restore it to its former glory, the organization proposes to include tourism as a priority in future recovery efforts. But, on its own, is this approach sufficient to account for the real consequences, direct and indirect, of the health crisis on tourism? For the academic Moez Kacem, the revival of tourism cannot be done independently of a new development scheme, highlighting the domestic market, without, however, repeating the same mistakes made in the past. Maintenance

With the spread of the coronavirus, is domestic or domestic tourism today a strategic choice or an emergency door to save the sector?

Here is a new crisis which shows us, once again, the importance of the domestic market as a regulating market for Tunisian tourism. We have already experienced this during previous crises (2015-2016); it is a market that shows significant resilience and it is far from being a back door.

But unfortunately, the current development model of Tunisian tourism has always been focused on international arrivals, which is why the value chain in the majority of its links suffers from a great dependence on foreign markets, international tour operators. and international transport. Let’s talk about figures, the index of dependence of Tunisian tourism on the domestic market is around 12%, which is very far from the world average of 68%. This index is 21% for the African region, which records the weakest performance compared to other regions of the world, particularly North America where the domestic tourism market represents 82%.

Certainly, in its current state, domestic tourism cannot, on its own, replace international markets, especially since the sector has always been seen as a generator of currencies (therefore dependent on international tourists). It can neither fill hotel establishments throughout the year, nor operate the fleet of 800 travel agencies scattered throughout Tunisia. However, changing the development model would make it possible to ensure a certain balance between international markets and the domestic market, reducing the latter’s share to at least 40% in the next 5 years. This remains very feasible, given the recent change in the physiognomy of Tunisian tourism, characterized by the decline of European markets in the face of sustained growth in local markets (Algerian and Libyan).

Faced with this situation, it is therefore obvious to put in place a whole strategy aimed at developing the domestic tourism market in Tunisia without, however, repeating the same mistakes made in the past.

But on the ground, there are a lot of challenges to relieve. Where do you start?

It is true that the sector is going through one of the most serious crises of our time today. But the pandemic is much more than a health crisis, it is also an unprecedented socio-economic crisis, putting pressure on each of the countries it affects. And as tourism is one of the sectors most affected by the health crisis, since it is hit by a severe and prolonged depression, colossal challenges are needed today to get the sector afloat. This project, despite its complexity, is an obvious necessity.

To do this, we must start by developing a program to promote Tunisian tourism to the local population, since in recent years, we have witnessed a spectacular, even worrying, degradation of the sector’s social image among the local population. indigenous. It is also time to design an education and awareness program on the consumption of tourist and hotel products. This will make it possible to acquire a certain individual and collective maturity which will make it possible to improve the fact of experience and avoid slippages on vacation sites. It is also recommended to implement a marketing plan adapted to the local context, well diversified (not limited to the hotel industry and covering the whole year) and promoting interregional mobility. It is also necessary to carry out a work of cooperation with the banking sector in order to create advantageous financial products allowing Tunisians to finance their vacations more easily throughout the year. I also propose to encourage incubators, accelerators and other stakeholders to further assist new promoters in the implementation of innovative and sustainable projects in the tourism sector as well as to revise the entire legal arsenal that turns out to be nowadays obsolete (for a hyper-evolving sector). Finally, but no less important, it is necessary to carry out studies which make it possible to identify and understand the attitudes, needs and expectations of the local tourist as well as to evaluate the true potential of this market.

But then again it’s easier to say what to do …

Today, the revival of tourism cannot be done independently of a new development plan, highlighting the domestic market, this real target in the sights. Moreover, among the major handicaps to the recovery is air transport, which has suffered a devastating impact head-on following this health crisis. Indeed, according to the latest barometer of the International Air Transport Association (Iata), carried out in July, international demand fell by 73.6% compared to July 2019, while for domestic demand, the decrease was less acute, -15.6% for the same period (July 2021/2019). This leaves no doubt as to the attractions of the recovery in tourism activity, which will begin with the domestic markets before being able to recover in 2024 the performance recorded in 2019 according to the scenarios established by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

Thus, it is obvious that the acceleration of the vaccination campaign globally remains an essential condition but also certain pre-requisites must appear on the priorities of government work. At the top of the list are the gradual lifting of restrictions by deploying health passes and ensuring a certain harmony of measures between countries, and the use of digital technology in the various links of the tourist value chain (airports, ports , tourist transport, hotels, etc.) so as to minimize human contact. It is also necessary to ensure compliance with the health protocols established by the various stakeholders, the load capacities of tourist sites and reduce mass flows to vacation spots. On the other hand, we must build the capacities of professionals in the sector by taking into account the new requirements of tourists, promote rural tourism and encourage the development of forms of sustainability in accordance with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations for all the players in the sector (institutional and private).

So you’re saying that we need to learn from this crisis to move forward?

Absoutely ! But it should be noted that it is inconceivable to resume tourist activity in the same state (of supply) and the same “spirit” which reigned before the covid-19 crisis. Important changes have been observed on the demand side and which must be taken into consideration at different scales: during the development of tourism policies, during the design of products, during the sale… For example, according to a recent survey by the Expedia group (world leader in online sales), 67% of Generation Z tourists experience sustainability concerns before choosing their destination.

So in any crisis there is an opportunity. This health crisis has offered us several lessons, which we should take into account from now on, regardless of the quality of the actor in the tourism sector. This is the role of proactive governance!

Our way of consuming the tourism product, our apprehension for natural and cultural resources, our immersion in the local populations, our understanding of the profitability of a tourism project, our training model for the sector, our regulatory and legal framework …, all these elements will have to be revisited under a different vision that is more inclusive and of irreproachable healthiness.

Janelle B. Smith

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