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The TTG Analysis COVER STORY


Armed police on horseback patrol the beaches


Treats and a band playing traditional music greeted returning Brits at Enfi dha-Hammamet airport


  


An emotional return TTG O


n the steps of the Sentido Phenicia in Hammamet in the early morning of February 13, a motley


crew of hotel staff draped in Union Jacks shuffl e excitedly in the crisp Tunisian dawn air. In front of them a vast banner, unfurled between palm trees, declares proudly: “We welcome our British friends”. The sound of a motor grows steadily louder and the excitement mounts. As the fi rst coach rounds the corner, the air suddenly fi lls with Queen’s W


e are the Champions. And by the time passengers begin to descend from the coaches, the hotel staff are already dancing jubilantly; the St George’s fl ags painted onto their cheeks creasing as they whoop their welcomes. It’s the third such greeting since these Thomas Cook customers arrived in Tunisia two hours ago. At Enfi dha- Hammamet airport, cakes, drinks and fl owers were presented as passengers approached the luggage belt, and as we carried on into the arrivals


12 22.02.2018


TTG joined Cook’s fi rst charter fl ight to return to Tunisia


area, we were given more fl owers and local gifts while a band played traditional music and the cameras of national media clicked and fl ashed. For the people of Tunisia, it was clear February 13 was a very big deal.


A devastating attack It was also a pivotal moment for Thomas Cook, the fi rst major tour operator to return to the North African country since the 2015 Sousse massacre which left 38 dead, 30 of whom were British tourists – the deadliest terror attack against Britons since the 2005 London bombings. “It’s been very emotional,” admits


Lyndsey Greatbatch, Thomas Cook’s destination manager for Tunisia and Morocco, who is married to a Tunisian and remained in the country during the travel ban. “Everybody let out a huge cheer at the airport when the fi rst fl ight from Birmingham landed – the security guards, airport offi cials, even the governor of Sousse was there.” Greatbatch says it’s been equally emotional for many of the passengers too. “We have so many loyal customers that used to holiday here three or four times a year. For many, the Tunisian people were their friends and they wanted to support them.” Indeed, all three Birmingham, Manchester and Gatwick Thomas Cook fl ights to Enfi dha-Hammamet airport last week were sold out. And Cook chief executive Peter Fankhauser revealed earlier this month that the programme was already “very well booked”. The group has taken around 15,000 UK bookings for the destination, and anticipates 50,000 for the year.


It’s a far cry from the 200,000 UK customers which Cook carried to Tunisia in 2014, but is nonetheless a positive start, and Greatbatch is confi dent the fi gures will increase. “I do think the demand is there and we will grow… It may take a few years but there’s no reason why we can’t get back to 200,000.”


Looking to the future Of course such growth can only continue if Tunisia remains free from any further terror attacks; an issue of which the country’s government is all too aware. And with tourism accounting for around 14% of Tunisia’s GDP, and providing employment for more than 200,000 people, it can’t aff ord not to be. The Tunisian – and British –


governments have worked hard to vastly improve Tunisia’s security since that fateful summer’s day in June 2015. The police, whose slow response was heavily criticised at


EXCLUSIVE


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