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What are the barriers and the opportunities involved in sustainable tourism in Tunisia?

Our local partner in Tunisia, talks about entrepreneurship, employment and sustainable development.

Over the years, pressures on the environment and natural resources in Tunisia have increased exponentially. The country is currently experiencing an ecological shortfall and demanding two times more bio-capacity than its ecosystems can produce. Tourism is the second-largest sector of the country’s economy after agriculture and constitutes one of the main sources of pollution. We have joined forces with Tunisia’s Ministry of the Environment and Sustainable Development to come up with national action plans for sustainable means of consumption and production (SMCP). Two action plans will be produced in compliance with the priorities set by the National Sustainable Development Strategy and National Green Economy Strategy in Tunisia: an action plan for SMCP for tourism, and a plan for the food production sector. This article discusses the obstacles and the opportunities involved in sustainable tourism in Tunisia.

Tourism accounts for nearly 7% of the GDP, employs close to 400,000 people and boosts the activity of a number of other sectors, including transport, trade and crafts. However, the tourism sector is certainly the first to have been affected by the current economic situation following revolution in the country. The number of tourists has fallen from around 7 million in 2010 to just over 6 million in 2014. Unforeseeable events related to political instability and environmental degradation in the country have had a major effect on this sector and the situation has not subsequently returned to normal. The seasonal nature of Tunisian tourism, which lasts approximately three months, along with offerings characterised by an extensive use of resources and a large amount of waste produced, are the main causes of its environmental impact. Given this, what can be done to ensure that tourism continues to be a driving factor in the country’s economy while reducing its ecological footprint? What strategies have been implemented by the Tunisian government?

‘The cost of degradation of the environment has been estimated to be 2.1% of GDP per year, and the cost of reduced water resources to be 0.6% of GDP per year.’

Among the initiatives undertaken to promote the development of SMCP in tourism is the development of alternative tourism. In this sense, a number of accomplishments have been made to promote such diversification, among which one should highlight ecotourism. Ecotourism is gradually developing in Tunisia through local initiatives in its various regions. One strategic study carried out on the development of ecotourism in 2007 revealed a relatively high potential for the development of this approach. Some 72 potential sites could host activities of an ecological nature and 6 thematic circuits were identified. Some projects have already been implemented, such as the Ksar Ezzit in El Fahs, or the Ken village in Bou Ficha.  




In addition to diversification, other actions to develop SMCP in tourism are already under way, such as the establishment of measures aimed at increasing the efficient use of resources and the implementation of procedures for environmental certification.

The national climate change mitigation plan for the tourism sector recommends improving the offerings for tourists, improving building management, revising the means of transport for tourists to achieve greater energy efficiency, and a review of urban planning to deal with the degradation of tourism resources.’

There are, however, major obstacles to developing SMCP in tourism, such as fragile conditions for public safety - the main reason for a drop in the tourism market in Tunisia, alternative tourism that is relatively neglected, an insufficient legal framework, cumbersome administrative procedures or a lack of financing.

However, despite the problems and obstacles facing the development of an alternative form of tourism, there are many positive factors. An awareness of the need to diversify the offerings for tourists, the launching of initiatives to make the sector greener, or the potential for job creation derived from the national green economy plan are a few examples of the high potential of alternative tourism in Tunisia.

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