WITH the promise of hot weather and sandy beaches just a few hours away, Tunisia is one of the most popular destinations for holidaymakers from Britain, Ireland and mainland Europe.
The five star Imperial Marhaba Hotel in the resort of Sousse had more than 500 guests staying there this week.
But in a matter of seconds tourists when from relaxing on the beach to fleeing for their lives as it became the scene of the latest terrorist attack on the country.
Wielding Kalashnikovs, two gunmen entered from the beach, kiling at least 28 people before one was killed by security forces.
Holidaymakers from Yorkshire have told how they witnessed the horror unfolding.
Ellie Makin from Ripon and Debbie Horsfall from Huddersfield were on the beach when the attack started. They told how a gunman was near them when he began to fire.
Ellie said: “He was to the right of me. I got up and just happened to look right and I saw the gun and the umbrella being dropped and then he started firing to the right. If he had fired to the left I don’t know what would have happened. We’re quite lucky.”
Debbie said they were staying at the Belleview Park Hotel, next door to where the attack took place. She added: “I was on the beach with my friend sunbathing when I heard gunfire. My friend stood up and saw a man with the gun firing. We got up and ran, but we didn’t know where to go. We have only been here two days - we came on Wednesday. We went back to our room but we didn’t feel safe. We just want to go home - we packed right away.”
Sally Groome, who works for Minster FM was in the resort and told the station what she witnessed. She said: “I was lying on a sunbed then all of a sudden lots of people came running very, very fast from the beach and then a member of the hotel staff said for us all to make our way to reception. “So everyone went quickly to reception and then we were told to go to our rooms. We overlook the main road, and there’s been so many police vehicles and sirens.”
A Bridlington woman was also caught up in the attack. Diane Brown, 49, is reported to be “safe but shaken.”
Her son Danny said: “It’s hard to get information out at the moment...She was told to stay in her room by security. She was on the beach at the time it happened which is just over the road from the hotel. She said she could hear the machine guns going off and screaming going to the hotel. It was all happening when she was talking. She was really scared.”
Tunisia has had a chequered relationship with tourism in recent years, partly triggered by the huge social and political upheaval since the uprisings of the Arab Spring in 2011.
A suicide bomber blew himself up in a failed attack on the beach in Sousse in October 2013 - the site of the latest incident - and in March this year an attack on the National Bardo Museum in March killed 22 people, mostly foreign tourists including a Briton Sally Adey.
Abta, the Association of British Travel Agents, says around 20,000 visitors are in the country at the moment, a number which excludes those tourists who have travelled there independently.
A spokeswoman for Abta said: “Tunisia had just started to recover to the numbers before the Arab Spring of 2011, but then it had the attacks on the museum in March.
“It is too early to say what impact it will have had.
RIU Hotels & Resorts, which owns the Imperial Marhaba, said travel company Tui operated from the hotel.
RIU added that the 366-room 5-star hotel had 565 guests staying there when the attack happened.
A spokeswoman said: “The majority of the guests are from the UK and other central European countries. However, it is not possible at the moment to confirm the nationalities or any other details of the victims.”