'˜Refusal to relax travel advice to Tunisia's makes terrorists feel they have won'

THE GOVERNMENT'S refusal to relax its travel advice for Tunisia almost one year after the deadly attack near Sousse is allowing the perpetrators to believe they are 'on the winning side', the country's UK-based tourism officials said.

The scene of the attack in Tunisia.

Some 30 Britons were killed by gunman Seifeddine Rezgui in the coastal resort of Port El Kantaoui on June 26 last year, leading the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to advise against all but essential travel to the North African country. Terror group Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack.

Tarek Aouadi, director of the Tunisian National Tourist Office (TNTO) in the UK, fought back tears as he insisted it was wrong for his home country to be punished as a result of the attack.

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He told the Press Association: “Tunisia shouldn’t be penalised because very hurtful, criminal people wanted to damage its economy.

“They are succeeding because if tourism is banned from the UK market that gives them a very good signal that they are on the winning side.”

UK tour operators stopped selling holidays to Tunisia following the FCO advice, which warns that “further attacks remain highly likely”.

Mr Aouadi said no other country has issued the same advice as the UK. An FCO spokesman said safety is its “main concern” and its guidance is under “constant review”.

TNTO figures for the first four months of 2016 show that the number of UK visitors to Tunisia has fallen by 93% compared to the same period last year.

Inbound tourism from other major European nations has not fallen as much, with visits from Germany down 57% and France down 32%.

Mr Aouadi said Tunisia does understand that “security comes first”, but added: “What we are after is to soften this ban a little bit while working on achieving the best possible situation as far as security is concerned.

Some 440,000 people from the UK visited Tunisia in 2014, according to the Office for National Statistics. The TNTO said that demand was even higher the following year, until the attack. Since then 192 hotels - a third of Tunisia’s total - have closed, officials said.