Tourists sunbathe on Dar Nawar beach, near Tunisia's capital (Photo:Reuters)
Tunisia's key tourism industry has begun to recover in the wake of last year's revolution, and the number of foreign visitors is likely to rise by about 20 per cent this year, Tourism Minister Elyess Fakfak said.
"We expect a high number of tourists compared to last year, an increase of about 1 million," he told reporters at a regular news conference on Monday.
Tourism accounts for 6.5 per cent of Tunisia's gross domestic product and employs about one in five people directly or indirectly.
About 5 million tourists visited the Mediterranean hotspot last year, when autocratic leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was ousted in the popular uprising that sparked the "Arab Spring" revolts across the Middle East. That was down from 7 million in 2010.
The uprising was followed by a brief period of rioting and instability which caused tourists to flee or cancel bookings.
The country has been making a relatively smooth transition to democracy since then, however, and tourists are beginning to return to its coastal resorts.
"There are important signs of recovery achieved during the first three months of the year... During this period the number of tourists increased by 50 per cent compared with last year, to reach 600,000 tourists," Fakfak said.
In 2011, Tunisia earned about $2 billion from tourism, the ministry's data shows. The country's GDP came to roughly $44 billion in 2010, based on IMF figures.