Tunisian tourist property: Is the solution (already) a problem?

By the times that are running in Tunisia, it is clearly not easy to be a hotelier! Taken in “club” sandwich by their lack of solidarity, the banks and the State which does not really know if it wants to make tourism a priority sector, it becomes difficult to find solutions that can give a breath of fresh air to hoteliers while diversifying the tourist offer and put a little pepper to the destination!

Residential real estate is one of the chosen routes to try to find a (small) way out of the crisis that hoteliers are going through. This is to allow the use of an untapped portion of the property assets of hotels to turn it into tourist residences. These will be sold to individuals who will have the opportunity to benefit from all the services of the hotel (50% local market and 50% non-residents).

The project takes shape by promulgation of a government decree (No. 335) in March 2016. Except that to date, no concrete action is carried out. Worse, while some are waiting for the decrees of applications, we learn that there will be none! Purchases of foreigners in Tunisia are still subject to authorizations from the Central Bank (BCT) and the agreement of the governor (law which dates from 1957). The annulment of this law was recently rejected by the Ministry of the Interior.

By and large, to date, more than 50 requests await the meanders of the Tunisian administration, the professionals, who today manage the hotels apprehend the situation to come and do not know how they will face the additional expectations of this flow of new customers (beaches, swimming pools, car parks, noise …) in addition to the customers of their hotels. … And to finish off the picture, hotel owners push for densification because they want to take advantage of a valve that is not even sure to revive. By Amel DJAIT

It is thanks to a round table organized by the Association for the promotion of the Tunisian tourism that the subject of the tourist real estate is approached. Hichem Hajri, President of this association, gathered around him Ahmed Karam, President of the Association of Bank Professionals, Moez Gueddas, Architect, Nebil Beziouech, Chief of Staff of the Minister of Tourism and Khaled Fakhfakh, President of the Federation Tunisian Hospitality (FTH).

If Nebil Beziouech says that this project carried by his ministry and the Land Agency of the hotel (AFH) also involves the ministries of Equipment, Interior and Finance, it will allow to target a clientele with a high purchasing power and improve the occupancy rate of the destination. However, the chef de cabinet knows perfectly well that this decision will not be enough to save tourism. And he says it!

The Tunisian hotel industry is hit by an unprecedented crisis. The sector continues to flow although in all circles we welcome a clear recovery of the sector. To really save Tunisian tourism, it will take a battery of measures which the country does not have the means in financial terms nor in terms of daring!

And from that, Ahmed Karam is aware. This is why he proposes to quickly provoke a “quick win” to set the example and then scale. Except that with the current contours of the project, the situation is blocked: The project poses a prerequisite of 8 conditions that the banker considers drastic. Given the state of the hotels and the financial situation of the institutions in the country that is eligible? Why do hoteliers have to pay a higher price for their sales to the state since it collects VAT and taxes on this economic activity? How to set up and get some hands-up on the hotels? How is it going to deal with the banks? Based on the agreements of line ministries, are banks ready to access loans and support hoteliers? On what basis will we calculate the highest value of the 30% on which is authorized the tourist real estate? How to convince the local authorities of this project since today some municipalities oppose this project? ….

Aware that tourism real estate is one of the flagship claims of hotel owners to come out of the crisis, Ahmed Karam says that consensual solutions exist and formulas are to invent to go forward. And he proposes immediately, in order to bypass the companies whose debts are classified and which can not claim the credit, to arrange a system of specific classification which would make it possible to avoid the rules of classification in force. He said: “I propose a radical change from the regulations and it will use our lobby to the BCT to accept this idea.” Except that in view of the very tense relations between the BCT and the hoteliers, this is far from being won! For Ahmed Karam, it remains to keep the essentials in mind; Never stop investing in tourism and bet on its new growth.

For Khaled Fakhfakh, President of the FTH, to discuss these details is essential but it is a waste of time and time that we no longer have: “It’s been 15 months since we moved forward! The residential tourist will allow the hotels to recover hope. They need it. It is vital that they be given a lifeline. … .. Some hoteliers are in successful mode, they do not need to add this component to their activities. Others, and I think of second and third line hotels, need residential and this is not a gift! “

On the side of the administration, this project makes cringe many teeth! The Ministry of Tourism had suggested in its first project proposal a proportion of 40% for tourism real estate. The Ministries of Equipment and Interior refused and blocked this rate to 30%. Fears of seeing the classic real estate market flooded with tourist real estate are visible. The stakes and traffic of influences to avoid or densify concreting are going well.

To date, the issue of tourism real estate is not settled. Driven by the administration, wanted and negotiated by the profession, this project is presented as a reform to unblock a situation that suffocates part of the economy of the country. It remains to be seen if by this choice Tunisia would not be an umpteenth mistake. The destination did not she spend 20 years building 4 and 5 star hotels to sell at a price of 3 stars? And if by this choice, it was only “eat up” once again its own capital?

And if the solutions, the real ones, were in the change of vocations? And if the solutions were in more ambitious orientations of the style transform Hammamet Yesmine into a gigantic giant University Campus for Africa or the Southern Mediterranean? And if the solution was to turn the resort into a center for retirees with dozens of private clinics, hospitals, a port for clinical boats ….

And if this solution was finally only the least bad solutions and we should for once dare to see bigger, further, more ambitious …. Except that we must do it all and together and looking in the same direction. However, with this inability to implement even a project as small as tourism real estate for the sector, we fail. Can we only allow ourselves the ambition to get out of it?

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