A man with plastic flowers on his head is pictured in the Medina of Tunis, Tunisia, Jan. 5, 2023. (Xinhua/Xu Supei)
TUNIS, Jan. 6 (Xinhua) -- China's latest COVID-19 response measures are warmly welcomed by hoteliers and travel agents in Tunisia, which are gearing up for the coming of Chinese guests.
China has optimized its COVID-19 response, with restrictions on international flights to be lifted starting from Jan. 8.
Amir Ben Aribia, general manager of the travel company Tunisia Blue Sky, told Xinhua that he is so happy to hear the good news, as Chinese customers contribute most of the company's business.
Amir is a second-generation tourism practitioner whose father, a travel guide with years of experience, founded his own company, namely Tunisia Blue Sky, in 1996.
The company started to receive Chinese tourists in 2013. Before the pandemic, roughly 90 percent of their clients came from China.
"The Chinese market is huge and growing fast. Chinese people travel all over the world," Amir said.
Nowadays, China is not only the largest travel market worldwide but also one of the biggest spenders globally.
At its peak in 2019, Chinese citizens made 155 million outbound trips. According to London-based The Economist, one in 10 international tourists was Chinese before the pandemic.
"Compared with Europeans, who prefer summer holidays at the seaside, Chinese show more interest in historical sites and natural landscapes, such as the ruins of ancient Carthage and the Sahara desert," Amir said, adding that this has brought them a significant and stable income.
In 2017, Tunisia started to offer visa-free entry to Chinese tourists. Since then, China has emerged as one of Tunisia's fast-growing markets, with Chinese tourist arrivals rising from about 7,400 in 2016 to over 18,000 in 2017.
"Before visa exemptions, Chinese travelers rarely came to Tunisia. But now, more and more people flock to the North African country," Cai Feifei, Tunisia representative at SaishangTour, a travel services company headquartered in Beijing, told Xinhua.
She said Chinese tourists especially enjoy spending the nights in tents in the Sahara desert.
Bordering the Sahara desert and the Mediterranean Sea, Tunisia is renowned for its rich tourism resources.
Tourism is a mainstay of Tunisia's economy. From 2015 to 2019, 7.2 million arrivals per year made it one of the most visited countries in Africa, according to WorldData. Internet statistics company Statista showed that tourism generated 10 percent of its gross domestic product in 2022.
The COVID-19 pandemic had dealt a dramatic blow to the country's tourism industry. In 2020, revenues were down 62 percent to 1.01 billion dollars.
For Amir, the worst time is over. He and his colleagues are preparing for the arrival of a new wave of Chinese travelers in 2023.
"As more Chinese tourists are expected to come, we do hope that there will be direct flights between China and Tunisia one day," he said. ■
People walk at a plaza in the Medina of Tunis, Tunisia, on Jan. 5, 2023. (Xinhua/Xu Supei)