(Adds tourism data, quote, background)
By Sarah Young and Tarek Amara
LONDON/TUNIS, Feb 13 (Reuters) - Thomas Cook flew
British tourists to Tunisia on Tuesday for the first time since
an Islamist militant killed 30 Britons on one of the North
African country's beaches in 2015.
Tourism provides much needed jobs and foreign currency in
Tunisia, but it has struggled since the attack in the resort of
Sousse killed 39 holidaymakers and an earlier one at the Bardo
National Museum in Tunis left 21 dead.
The sector accounts for about 8 percent of Tunisia’s gross
domestic product and the attacks worsened an economic crisis
started by the overthrow of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011.
The 2015 beach attack, which was claimed by Islamic State,
prompted Britain to advise against all but essential travel to
Tunisia, and major operators scrapped their tour holidays there.
However, Britain's Foreign Office softened its advice last
year and Thomas Cook said all three of its flights to Tunisia's
Enfidha airport were full. It will fly there three times a week,
allowing Britons to join German, French and Belgian
holidaymakers who have been going for the last two years.
TUI Group, the operator with whom the victims had
travelled, said last month it too planned to offer holidays in
Tunisia again, starting in May.
"It's amazing to come back to Tunisia with my husband. I'll
go to Sousse and I'm not afraid," a British tourist who have her
name as Julia said. "Tunisia is obviously very secure. I want to
spend a pleasant holiday again in the nice resort of Sousse."
TUI said its decision to resume holidays to Tunisia was due
to returning appetite. Tunisia's tourism revenues rose by 15.7
percent to 150 million dinars ($63 million) in January versus
the same period last year, central bank data showed.
"We opened the destination because demand was there, that's
very clear," CEO Fritz Joussen said after the company announced
its first quarter results.
Neji Ben Othman, the general director in the tourism
ministry, told Reuters he hoped the return of Thomas Cook would
encourage other Europeans to return too.
Last year, the number of tourists visiting Tunisia rose by
some 23 percent as hotels filled beds with Russian and Algerian
visitors, but operators say they spend less than Western
European holidaymakers during their stay.
(Reporting by Sarah Young and Tarek Amara; Writing by Sarah
Young and Ulf Laessing; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and
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