Interest in Tunisia as a conference and incentives destination has grown dramatically, thanks to a £9,000 marketing campaign by the Tunisian National Tourist Office.
Up to 8,000 delegates are expected to travel to Tunisia on conference and incentive trips this year, compared with just a few hundred in 1998, and, according to the tourist office, the figure is set to double in 2000.
IBM and Coca-Cola Schweppes have already held meetings in Tunisia this year and next May the country will host the Advantage conference.
"We have been established in the French and German markets for some time, but until this year the UK market just wasn't aware of what we had to offer," said TNTO UK director, Houssem Ben Azouz.
As part of its campaign the tourist office has produced a dedicated brochure, titled Corporate Tunisia, for the first time, highlighting conference facilities for up to 1,000 delegates, as well as the country's diverse leisure attractions including sandy beaches, archeological sites and bustling markets.
The tourist office is also planning a series of fam trips for business travel agents and corporate planners to Tozeur in the southwest - thought to be the resort with the greatest potential for the incentives market.
As yet there are no direct flights from the UK to Tozeur but Ben Azouz believes the town's other benefits more than compensate for this shortcoming. "Tozeur has top quality hotels in exotic surroundings. In terms of activities available there is an attraction park and we are building an 18-hole golf course that will open next year," he said.
Tozeur is also a good base for excursions into the Sahara desert, such as four-wheel jeep trips, ballooning, and of-course, visits to the set of the new Star Wars film, Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, less than 15 miles away.
The coastal resorts of Tunis, Hammamet, Port El Kantaoui and Sousse are all being pushed as suitable sites for conferences. "All the hotels in these places have excellent conference facilities, like the Sol Azur resort in Hammamet which has three hotels and a conference centre with all the latest technology," said Ben Azouz.
Cadogan managing director, Gary David, confirmed that interest in Tunisia as a corporate destination is growing. He predicted the operator will send 700 business delegates this year, a significant increase on last year's 146.
"In the past there was a feeling that Tunisia was a little third world but now because of the growth of leisure tourism it is seen much more as the Costa del Sol of North Africa, and I think that has encouraged more interest," said David.
"It also has the added bonus of having the right facilities to allow business people to take their families with them."
Hotel chains are also beginning to take an interest in Tunisia as a conference destination. Accor recently gained a foothold in the market when it took over the Palm Beach Palace in Tozeur.
The 120-room, five-star resort has four meeting rooms, the largest of which seats 650 people, a business centre and three restaurants.
"Clients are constantly looking for something new and exciting and with Tunisia we have just that," said Accor UK conference and incentive sales manager, Roger Oakley. "Tunisia also offers good value for money, and is probably in line with Morocco in terms of rates."
n Tunisia is deemed to be an exotic location and is only a 2hr 30mins flight from London
n Daily scheduled flights to Tunis (four a week from London Heathrow with Tunisair and four from Gatwick on GB Airways).
n Excellent hotels equipped with fax machines and modems in business suites. Mobile phones on a GSM network can be used.
n Good leisure facilities and activities for delegates but also for families who may want to travel too. Nearly all hotels have health and beauty treatment centres.
n Guaranteed good weather - at least 16C in winter/30C insummer
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