Tunisia has started to open its borders to tourists, and arrivals from the UK are now permitted without quarantine. Countries are currently ranked using a traffic-light system, and last week the Tunisian government upgraded the UK’s status from orange (a negative COVID-19 test needed on arrival and 14-day self isolation required) to green (no restrictions needed).
You can find the Tunisian government’s fully updated list of country designations (in French) here on the Ministry of Health’s Facebook page.
According to Targa Consult, Tunisia is the second safest destination in the Mediterranean in terms of COVID-19 cases, just after Montenegro. Indeed, as of 10 July, Tunisia had suffered a total of only 50 deaths and has seen a much lower number of overall cases in comparison with its African regional neighbours.
Tunisia has certainly had a demographic advantage when it comes to tackling COVID-19. Like many North African countries, they have a very young population with almost 40% of residents under 24 years old, and fewer than 9% over 65. However, this alone does not explain their success in tackling the virus. A strict 24/7 nationwide lockdown was in force from 22 March (at which time only three people had died from the virus), and this included a 6am to 6pm curfew.
Can I visit now?
One of the key priorities for the Tunisian government now that lockdown is over is to restart tourism. Looking at the figures, it is not hard to see why: the tourism sector made up 14.2% of Tunisia’s GDP in 2019. Driving around the country since lockdown was lifted, I have been astonished by how empty a lot of the resort areas have seemed, particularly in normally buzzing towns such as Hammamet, Tozeur and Djerba. There is an uneasy quiet across the country, as hoteliers, restaurant owners and market traders wait for the tourists to return.
Commercial air travel in Tunisia restarted on 27 June. The Ministry of Tourism has chosen the slogan “Ready & Safe” to attract visitors back to Tunisia. Tourism businesses across the country are putting in place a number of preventative measures to ensure the safety of both visitors and locals. Some of these steps will be quite welcome for tourists, such as setting maximum occupancy rates in hotels to 50%.
Why should I consider Tunisia?
Tunisia is a unique country in North Africa, and one that deserves the economic support your visit will provide. Since the Arab Spring, commentators have talked about ‘the Tunisian exception’ – while many other Arab nations have descended either into warfare or further authoritarianism, Tunisia has built a progressive, secular democracy. Most reassuringly, Tunisia has a government that makes evidence-based policy decisions that have likely saved thousands of lives this year.
It is my view that those considering visiting Tunisia from more COVID-19 affected countries should think carefully about the ethics of their journey before undertaking it. Are you coming from a high-risk area? Will your journey to Tunisia put you at risk of spreading the infection? Are you willing to adjust your holiday behaviour to stick to the preventative measures put in place by the Tunisian government, and not put Tunisians at risk?
Upon arrival, visitors should aim to try and support independent businesses that have been most hard-hit by the strict lockdown measures and subsequent economic downturn. With a little planning and a healthy dose of respect for Tunisian health authority directives, visitors should be able to make a positive contribution to Tunisia’s recovery this summer.
The country’s well-developed Mediterranean coastline has much to offer those looking for a traditional beach holiday, and this is what a large number of European visitors will be craving this year. Whether you fly directly into Hammamet or venture further south to the world-class kitesurfing spots on Djerba island, there is plenty of beach to go round.
For those after a culture fix, the ancient Roman archaeological sites are numerous, well preserved and nowhere near as crowded as their Italian counterparts. Star Wars buffs could spend days roaming the south of the country exploring the film sets and shooting locations. The unique cultural mixture here leads to a wealth of choice in terms of food, music and arts.
Likewise, the varied landscapes have something to offer everyone, from racing 4x4s through the Sahara to riding horses through Djerba island’s clear blue Mediterranean waters.
If you are considering a trip to Tunisia and looking for some inspiration, please check out my YouTube channel, ScafidiTravels. Here you will find hotel reviews, tours of historic sites and vlogs from my time on the road while researching the Bradt Guide to Tunisia, which is due for release in late 2021.