Irish Travel Agents’ Association (ITAA) chief executive, Pat Dawson, said Tunisia “was still too raw”, after 39 tourists were killed in a terrorist atrocity in Sousse in June 2015, including three Irish.
Tunisia’s tourism revenues have risen 19% this year, reflecting a recovery in a vital sector crippled two years ago.
Tourism accounts for 8% of Tunisia’s GDP, provides thousands of jobs, and is a key source of foreign currency, but it has struggled since two major attacks in 2015.
The first, at the Bardo National Museum, in Tunis, left 21 tourists dead, while 39 holidaymakers were killed in the second attack, on a beach in the resort city of Sousse.
Tunisia’s tourism minister, Salma Loumi, said 4.58m foreigners visited the North African country between January and this month, bolstered by arrivals from neighbouring Algeria. Visits by European tourists rose 16%.
Last month, Britain’s foreign office said it was no longer advising against travel to most of the North African country, including the capital, Tunis, and major tourist destinations.
Thomas Cook will resume offering holidays in Tunisia, for UK holidaymakers, following the change. It had not stopped offerings for French, German, and Belgian holidaymakers, because their governments hadn’t advised against travel.
However, Mr Dawson said it looked unlikely that Tunisia and Turkey, which has also suffered from terrorist attacks, would figure highly in the eyes of tour operators and airlines, as they assessed Irish interest.
Mr Dawson said: “I don’t envisage airlines and tour operators putting Tunisia and Turkey back on the schedule for 2018, but it is, of course, up to them to decide. Turkey may come back more quickly, but my feeling is that Tunisia is still too raw for many Irish people, considering three Irish tourists died in Sousse.”
Mr Dawson said the travel agents would encourage airlines to open more routes from airports like Cork and Shannon to the likes of Croatia and Slovenia, in light of terror uncertainty in major European destinations.
“There is an opportunity for more routes, to and from regional airports across Europe. There is nothing like travelling from your own local airport, instead of travelling to Dublin all the time. Cork, Shannon, and Knock are superb airports, and holidaymakers add significantly to the local economy when using them.
“There is a huge market for hundreds of thousands of Irish holidaymakers who don’t live in Dublin, and we would be encouraging tour operators and airlines to spread the love to the regions.”
Mr Dawson said that asking holidaymakers to “use the M50 or the M8” to get to Dublin Airport was not the answer.
“We have to make it as easy as possible for consumers, it’s as simple as that. Looking outside of Dublin would do that,” he said.
Tunisian officials expect the number of foreign tourists to rise to 6.5m this year, up 30% from 2016, due to improved security and interest from new markets, including Russia.
That would mark a return to normal, below a record 6.9m visitors in 2010.
Additional reporting Reuters