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14 Feb 2018

BY Sophie Griffiths

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Tunisia: First UK charter since 2015 Sousse attack

Tunisia welcomed the return of the first UK charter flights this week, almost three years after the Sousse terror attack which killed 30 British tourists in June 2015.

Cooks Tunisia return
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“We as Tunisians are a gentle people. We are doing the best we can and we are getting a lot stricter in defining our perimeter as a hotel.”

Thomas Cook’s Birmingham, Manchester and Gatwick flights to Enfidha, which took off on Tuesday and Wednesday this week, were all sold out, and Cook group chief executive Peter Fankhauser insisted the company’s overall Tunisia programme was “very well booked”.


Speaking following the release of Thomas Cook Group’s first quarter trading results last week, Fankhauser said: “We are carefully going in, we feel well prepared.


“They [flights and hotels] are very well booked so there is a customer demand and then we are ramping it up to six flights a week in the summer season.”


The programme currently includes 16 hotels and the three weekly flights to Enfidha, with Glasgow set to be added from April and Newcastle and London Stansted from May, eventually totalling six flights per week.


Thomas Cook will also be running its first mega fam to the country, with 100 Cook agents visiting Tunisia for three nights at the end of March.


TTG joined the operator for the first flight back to Tunisia from Birmingham to Enfidha–Hammamet International airport on Tuesday, where disembarking customers were met with singing and dancing by jubilant Tunisians.


At one of Thomas Cook’s three own-brand hotels in Hammamet, Sentido Phenicia, hotel sales manager Ghazi Riahi said staff were “ecstatic” that British tourists were returning.

 

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He insisted that security had vastly improved, and told TTG tourists should feel confident in the hotel’s new safety measures. These include more than doubling its security staff numbers since 2015, from 12 to 25, while the number of CCTV cameras has also increased from 20 to 47, with more set to be added.


Sniffer dogs trained to smell explosives are also now used at the hotel’s beach and front entrances, while staff throughout the hotel have been trained under guidance from the Interior Ministry. Spot checks are also conducted throughout the year.


“We as Tunisians are a gentle people,” Riahi said. “We are doing the best we can and we are getting a lot stricter in defining our perimeter as a hotel.”


Meanwhile, Thomas Cook customers told TTG they were conscious of security concerns, but said they trusted Cook to have made the necessary safety checks.


David and Andrea Walburton from Manchester told TTG this was their seventh visit to Tunisia and said they were “very happy to be back and supporting the Tunisian people”.


Meanwhile, friends Sacha Houlders, 25, and Zarfreen Bibi, 27, admitted they had been lured by the cheaper prices. Bibi said security concerns “were always at the back of my mind”, but added: “It hasn’t put us off going to places like London or Manchester, which also had terror attacks.


“We trust Thomas Cook and the [UK] government to have checked the security here.”


Elsewhere, during a conference call following Tui Group’s first-quarter results this week, chief executive Fritz Joussen said the group “opened the destination [to the UK] because demand was very clear”.

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