Tunisia’s tourism sector hopes for a quick recovery as borders reopen | Coronavirus pandemic

In the historic heart of Tunisia's capital, Tunis, trader Mohamed Chawchi is putting his skills to use.

He looks for the plaques he plans to sell, hoping that the worst of the coronavirus pandemic is over.

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"The coronavirus outbreak was a very, very difficult period," said Chawchi. "Even after the reopening, artisanal activities are still very difficult, because we are working for tourists who still cannot come here".

Chawchi's shop is in the old Medina of Tunis, a UNESCO world heritage site that treats visitors to a rich sample of local crafts and cuisine. It is also an area that usually overflows with people.

Five years ago, gunmen killed 38 European tourists at a beach resort near the city of Sousse – an attack that significantly affected the tourism sector.

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According to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, Tunisia has 1,164 cases of coronavirus, including 50 deaths.

With the daily number of new confirmed coronavirus cases on the decline, government officials set June 27 as the date to reopen the country's air, land and sea borders.

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Travel agency owner Ali Hanfi is happy with the decision, but said that Tunisia will face more difficulties to recover from the effects of COVID-19 than after the violence.

"Terrorism hit almost everywhere in the world and we survived and we knew how to overcome it," said Hanfi. "But for the coronavirus, it is affecting the whole world and, so far, we still don't know how to deal with it."

Tunisia's hospitality sector is doing its best.

At the El-Ali restaurant in Tunis, this means that new hygiene and social distance measures have been implemented: hand sanitizer is being offered at the entrance and masks are mandatory for employees.

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Jihan Bouhadra, the restaurant's owner and manager, says things are very different.

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"We try to understand customer behavior," said Bouhadra. "Some of them are still afraid. Some think it will come back."

In the city of Sidi Bou Said – about 20 km from Tunis, with spectacular views of the Mediterranean – boutique hotels like Villa Bleue have been preparing for some time.

"We deal with professional cleaning products to thoroughly clean all furniture," said the hotel's manager, Mahdi Bouassida.

"All curtains, bedding and floors. Everything was done professionally and we followed the rules that were defined by the government".

With the rooms ready, all that remains now is the arrival of the guests.

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