Tunisia museum attack: Locals fear tourism backlash

CBC's Sylvia Thomson reports from Tunis about concerns that foreigners will now avoid Tunisia's capital, which relies heavily on income from tourism.

21 victims, most of them tourists, were killed when gunmen stormed the museum

People stroll by on a stone walkway above the beach just outside Tunis, Tunisia, shortly after the attack. The shootings at the Bardo museum happened just 20 minutes away. (Sylvia Thomson/CBC)

Tourism guide Wissal Bouzid, who was at the National Bardo Museum when gunmen attacked, told the French newspaper Libération yesterday, "C'est fini la Tunisie, C'est fini le tourisme."

Translated, that means "That's it for Tunisia, that's it for tourism."

When the newspaper highlighted that quote, the online backlash from Tunisians was swift. 

People here are in shock and are also defensive about their country, which relies heavily on tourism income from all-inclusive and other resorts on its long coastline. They are concerned about how foreigners will view the place now.

'I didn't sleep well' 

On Wednesday, militants stormed inside the Bardo museum in Tunis, killing 21 people, most of them tourists.

Twelve passengers from the cruise ship MSC Splendida were killed in the museum attack. Here, other passengers react to the deaths. (Albert Gea/Reuters)

"Last night I didn’t sleep well," said Skander Mestiri the owner of a 1½-year-old boutique hotel on the coast outside Tunis. Some of his guests checked out this morning because he said "their businesses recalled them."

"Tunisians have survived so many crises since the time of Carthage and we always find a way out. We'll survive this too," he said.

Little beacon of hope in the Arab world … and it's gone now.- Lorette Savaton, tourist

Mestiri increased the security presence outside his hotel doors, on both day and night shifts. Guests are stopped before entering to have their bags swept with a wand. 

Outside the hotel, on the stone walkway above the beach, people still stroll by under the palm trees. There are no immediate signs of the attack that happened just 20 minutes away. 

Marwene Talbi, a civil engineer, walks by in a hoodie and jeans. "Tourists are welcome here at all moments," he said. “Inshallah [God willing] security will get better.”

He added that he is angry at the attackers because they don't believe in religious differences. 

From left, Justine Marini, Lorette Savaton and Elodie Puerto, three French teachers living in Tunisia, say they're not afraid to venture out, despite the attack in Tunis this week. (Sylvia Thomson/CBC)
Three young French teachers who are living here also stop to talk. Many French tourists come here as both French and Arabic are spoken widely and it's a nice, warm, inexpensive holiday getaway in the winter especially. With summer approaching, Justine Marini worries tourists won't come from her native France.

"Tunisians are telling me to tell all my friends back home that it is safe here, that we are nice people," she said. 

Her friend, Lorette Savaton added that Tunisia was just getting to be known "as this little beacon of hope in the Arab world [compared to fallen states in neighbouring countries] and it's gone now." 

Attackers against democratic progress

She believes the attackers didn't like seeing democratic progress and wanted to destroy it. 

The third friend points out a few similarities and differences with the Charlie Hebdo attack in their home country. 

"After Charlie Hebdo, we went on and lived in Paris, and people still come to visit Paris," she said.

They recognize that this part of North Africa isn't as stable as the countries surrounding France and that they are perhaps a bit more brave than some of their friends. 

"I'm not scared. We are still walking and going out for dinner," Marini said. "But we do have friends who are scared to go out."


Sylvia Thomson is a producer with the CBC in Toronto. She spent several years as a producer covering politics in Washington, D.C., and Ottawa and has covered major international stories.


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