LuxairTours are again promoting the North African country as a tourist destination which has been very popular indeed over the last 30 years since its inception in 1987, but has suffered due to security issues, most notably in 2015.
LuxairTours now believes that those troubles are firmly behind them but have a contingency in place to be able to evacuate everyone within 24 hours if needed.
Aiming for 25,000 passengers this year (the figure reached 30,000 in its heyday up to 2011), the Luxembourg tour operator already has 7,000+ reservations confirmed for the 2017 summer season (April-October), up 82% on 2016 bookings and, with April capacity already completely sold out, early signs indicate that consumer confidence is returning. They are flying for the moment just to Djerba - a 500m2 island with a population of 170,000 off the north coast, geographically situated south of Sicily, where security can be more easily managed - and hope to return to Enfidha for the 2017-18 winter programme. And LuxairTours has recently added a 5th weekly flight to its Djerba summer schedule to meet expected demand.
LuxairTours has no less than 24 hotels, both 4- and 5-star, as well as one LuxiClub for families with young children, in the tourism area of Djerba island, most within a 30-minute drive of the airport which itself is operating an increased level of security, albeit discreet.
Last week-end, LuxairTours flew a Luxair Boeing 747-800 full of travel agents and some journalists from Luxembourg and throughout the Greater Region, to Djerba. The two-and-a-half-hour, 1,800km flight took us over the Alps, then the Cote d'Azur, past Turin and then over both Corsica and Sardinia, before continuing south to the Tunisian coast. The crew laid on a tasty, fresh on-board meal with drinks, snd the LuxairTours staff accompanying the passengers combined to put on a great effort and created a party atmosphere by holding a mid-air tombola with model planes, merchandise and RayBan sunglasses as prizes. This helped cement the impression of an airline and tour operator being different and treating passengers as real people and part of the family, not just numbers in a system.
Upon exiting the passenger terminal at Djerba, the airport management company had laid on a high-tempo musical welcome and all passengers were presented with a Fez (traditional red North African hat).
It was also comforting to see an armed police presence at a number of points along the coast road from the airport to the main tourist area, across a flat and barren expanse. Instead of creating uncertainty, this reinforced the sense of security in the area. While my previous recollections when travelling this road last in 2015 were the myriad of plastic bags strewn along the roadside, this time - while the volume of discarded bags was significantly less than previously - my attention was caught by the number of different species of birds feeding along the shoreline in the shallow water, and a number of locals fishing from the shore and from boats in the bay. While this signified a big plus from the ecology and environment perspectives, what was also noticeable since my previous trip here was that the condition of most of the (private) cars being used had worsened considerably, one metric that illustrated how the significant drop in tourist numbers had affected the local economy. We were later to learn that hoteliers in the region had received an allowance of not having to pay the employer's portion of social security payments for last year and this year, in order to safeguard jobs in the tourism sector.
Arriving at the Hastrubal Thalassa & Spa Djerba hotel, all guests were welcomed with a refreshing glass of fresh lemon juice and towels with which to freshen up before the check-in and access to the spacious and comfortable rooms, each with their own balcony and sun furniture, prior to departing for the nearby Fiesta Beach Club hotel - described by LuxairTours as the most popular in their brochure - for dinner and entertainment.
Instantly recognising this location as where I had stayed during the last LuxairTours press trip to Djerba in 2013, it brought back pleasant memories of individual, quiet whitewashed apartments in a spotless landscaped environment, weaving around the main pool and down to the beach with pristine white sand, a calm and warm sea, camel rides along the beach and volleyball courts, etc.
With the main course served at the tables, with the starters and desserts available from extensive buffet displays, the large dining room availed of a large stage where the venue laid on an extensive cabaret show catering for all tastes, including dancing the night away...
In the morning, after a sumptuous and healthy breakfast back at the Hastrubal accompanied by a classical pianist on a grand piano, a stroll around the grounds revealed pristine garden landscaping, aquamarine pools glistening in the glorious morning sunshine, with fonds on the manicured palm trees swaying in the gentle breeze. The shoreline was less than 100m away, dotted with parasols and deckchairs, with camel rides along the beach proving popular even with the early risers.
A beautiful day with not a cloud in the sky and daytime temperatures of 20-21C - it dropped to 15C overnight - with a slight sea breeze, and off to the Houmt Souk, the island's capital, and a visit to the market and a walk to the old city.
The stroll through the central market place of the town took us through meandering, narrow streets with whitewashed walls and blue-painted doors and window frames, with green plants on balconies and flowers in full bloom. Added to the colour of the wares in the market stalls was the hum of activity and occasional sound of musicians performing in small squares, creating a comfortable and relaxing - if sometimes noisy - atmosphere. The covered souk (market) was primarily clothing and jewellery, with colourful, glazed earthenware - including tajines - also being peddled from outdoor market stalls.
A stop at a foudouk (local traditional café) brought some welcome refreshment in the form of fresh orange / lemon juice, with plenty of seating in the ground-floor square open space close to the local musicians and singers, with comfortable padded chairs and carpets in the alcoves off the first-floor inward-facing balcony.
Off then to the Djerba Golf Club for lunch, and some fun on the putting green for those interested. Again, a great show was put on for the travelling contingent, this time a local easy-listening covers band apparently performing all of The Eagles catalogue of tracks. This time the food served up was half-a-dozen small dishes of mainly French cuisine, on the terrace overlooking the practice putting green.
Back to the airport and a two-and-a-half-hour flight back to Luxembourg in one of Luxair's four 168-seat Boeing 737-800s. again with great service including an in-flight meal.
For full photo album, see http://bit.ly/2omsf0r
For further information on LuxairTour's offers to Djerba in Tunisia, including special deals, see www.luxairtours.lu