Attracted by deep price cuts, Tunisians have flocked to the beaches for their summer vacations, but reservation books are empty for the fall as the school year starts.
Europeans have abandoned this North African country, leaving just local Tunisian beach-goers and visiting Algerians. But they will be gone by month's end, and then the real pain for the country's all-important tourism industry will begin. While tourism officially only makes up 7 percent of Tunisia's economy, industry experts estimate its real contribution is closer to 19 percent. And the decision by Britain and some other European countries to warn away their travelers has devastated the sector. The travel guidance was prompted by security concerns after the June attack and another deadly attack in March on the country's leading museum, both by Islamic extremists.
The government is also working with hotels that are temporarily closing to pay at least partial salaries to their employees, to avoid the devastating consequences of laying off large sections of the workforce in a country already ravaged by 15 percent unemployment.
Some 400,000 people are employed directly and indirectly in the industry and they support 2 million family members no small number in a country of just 11 million. The seasonal influx of Algerians to Tunisian beaches has been hailed in the media as an example of neighborly support. But the 4,000 people crossing the borders every day are typical for this time of year. Each hotel now has a uniformed policeman with an assault rifle at the door and armed plainclothes officers are scattered around the beaches. Hotels are also working with police to install cameras, metal detectors and train security teams.