Tunisia’s tourism industry has been on the downward spiral since the 2011 revolution. recent terror attacks have also affected it allure to foreign visitors who usually patronize the beaches.
But the sector could soon bounce back with a different verve from an unlikely source – viticulture.
With some 3,000 years of wine production experience, Tunisian wine producers are hoping to steer the sails of the country’s suffering tourism sector.
Wine producers like Mohammed Ben Sheikh is preparing to open up his vineyard which sits atop the hills overlooking the Mediterranean sea to tour operators next year.
“This new product, which I hope from 2017, will be made available to tour operators from Tunisia as well as foreign tourists, is a cultural route. A cultural route is an alternative to conventional tourism,” he told AFP.
His plan includes harnessing the the archaeological heritage of the country as well as its wine producing history to create what he terms cultural tourism.
“Carthage was the granary of Rome but it was also its wine cellar. It had a great agronomist, Magon, who was the first to write treaties on wine growing,” he explains.
Thus the idea is to develop a tour stretching from the capital Tunis to the nearby Cap Bon peninsula, mixing archaeology with visits to local vineyards.
Neferis produces 1.2 million bottles of wine annually, a fraction of the 32 million bottles produced from wineries across the country each year.
This is part of a revival of the wine industry in Tunisia since the 1990s after it took a dip in the post-independence era when Europeans started patronizing their own products.
But still, a vast majority of the wine produced is consumed locally, something wine producers are hoping to change.
“Previously we did not in practice, present the same wines to the export market and the tourism sector,” said Belgacem D’Khili, a veteran of the industry. He explains though that now they are working on having the same wine for both markets with the hope that Tunisian wine gains international recognition.
Tunisia earns approximately 80 million euros annually from its wine sector. Of this amount, about 25 million euros goes into the state coffers by way of taxes. Revenue from wine export does not exceed 10 million euros.
Industry players have attributed this to the limited scale of vineyards – about 15,000 hectares on a national level and a near absence of a marketing strategy, things they say they have started working on.