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British package tourists returned to Tunisia’s Mediterranean coast for the first time since militants killed more than 30 people in a 2015 attack on a beach hotel, a boost for a country where recent protests stirred memories of the 2011 uprising that kicked off the Arab Spring.
The visitors brought in by travel company Thomas Cook were greeted at the airport in Sousse, the site of the deadly assault, by a folk band and Tunisians handing out bouquets of jasmine. U.K. government advice warning against travel to Tunisia was withdrawn in July but this is the first time a major British tour company has returned.
“The British market is a strategic one for Tunisia, and the return of Thomas Cook flights today is a strong message of reassurance” to other tourism companies, said Neji Ben Othman, director general of the National Tourist Office. He said Tunisia expects tourism to rebound and that more than 70,000 Britons are likely to visit in 2018.
Often hailed as a rare success story in the uprisings that swept the Middle East in 2011, Tunisia has seen its transition from dictatorship to democracy hampered by high unemployment, terrorist attacks, and labor strife. Violent protests erupted in January against the government’s program of subsidy cuts and tax increases.