Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al-Maktoum, Chairman and Chief Executive, Emirates Airline and Group, on a three-day official visit and accompanied by a high-level delegation called upon the President and Prime Minister of the Tunisia, H.E. Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and H.E. Mohamed Ghannouchi in Tunis during a recent visit to Tunisia.
Adding impetus to the recently-strengthened relations between Tunisia and the U.A.E, Sheikh Ahmed pledged to support Tunisia’s growing economy in his meetings with the country’s top government officials. Key issues relating to the aviation industry were also discussed.
In recent months, U.A.E.’s leading conglomerates Emaar and Dubai Investments have announced new projects in telecommunications, tourism, and infrastructure, injecting over US$7 billion worth of investment in Tunisia.
While in Tunisia, Sheikh Ahmed also inaugurated Emirates’ brand new office in Tunis. The new office adds to Emirates’ tally of 26 city and airport offices in 13 African countries.
In October 2006, Emirates launched its five-flights-a-week service to Tunis via Tripoli. Tunis is Emirates’ fifth footprint in North Africa, after Cairo, Tripoli, Casablanca and Alexandria.
Sheikh Ahmed said: “Emirates will not only offer air transport links to Tunisia, but will also assist in the country’s economic development through employment generation, greater connectivity for travellers, and enhanced capacity for the trading community.”
He added: “Emirates is delighted to open its new office in Tunis that will enable our valued customers to plan and book their entire travel arrangements in relaxed surroundings, guided by knowledgeable experts.”
He noted: “Emirates continues to focus on Africa as one of its growth sectors. In 2006 alone, we have launched services to Abidjan, Addis Ababa, Tunis and cargo-only destination, Malawi. Our commitment to the region currently stands at 82 passenger flights per week.”
Emirates Airline has built a firm foundation in Tunis by the commencement of its services to Tunisia. The world-class airline whose strong presence in Africa includes 82 flights per week to 14 gateways in 12 countries has added another prominent African city to its rapidly-expanding network.
Emirates launched a hectic recruitment programme, which saw over 20 Tunisians employed in the airline’s city, airport and cargo offices. A comprehensive training programme in Tunis and at the airline’s headquarters in Dubai was held for the new recruits, to acquaint them with Emirates’ world-class standards.
The airline’s new city office in Tunis is situated in the posh and up-market Lac area, and is designed to echo the airline’s global standards for superior customer delivery. Located within close proximity of Tunis’ business and financial centre, the plush office branded in Emirates’ trademark red and off-white colours houses the airline’s customer interfacing departments such as Ticketing & Reservations, along with the Manager’s office, Sales and Finance departments.
Nasser Bin Kherbash, Senior Vice President Commercial Operations Africa, said: “The start of services to Tunis signals the strengthening of Emirates’ North African network, presently comprising Alexandria, Cairo, Casablanca and Tripoli. As long-standing trade partners, the U.A.E. and North Africa have, over the years, witnessed an escalation in trade and commerce with the opening up of the region to foreign investments.”
He added: “The recent discussions between the U.A.E. and Tunisian government officials for developing the latter’s seaports, tourism, communications, power generating stations and water desalination plants will bolster the bi-lateral partnerships already in place between our two countries. And the enhanced economic relations will be supported by Emirates’ efficient and reliable air transport services.”
To Tunis, Emirates operates the modern Airbus A330-200 aircraft in three- and two-class configurations. The wide-bodied, twin-aisle aircraft offers industry-leading comforts including ergonomically designed seats, and personal entertainment systems in all classes.
The country’s relationship with the United Arab Emirates, in particular, and the Middle East in general, has received a substantial boost with the increase in trade. Tunisia has a 98 per cent Muslim population and Arabic is its official national language. The common linguistic and religious base has also spurred bi-lateral relations between the GCC countries and Tunisia.
Tunisia is fast emerging as one of the most progessive countries in the African continent. The country is situated right in the heart of its principal market – the European Union – to which it sends around 80 per cent of its exports. It is this proximity to Europe which has turned Tunisia into an economic powerhouse. But proximity to lucrative markets on its own means nothing – as is evident by looking at some of Tunisia’s neighbours. It is making this proximity count that has transformed this North African country of nine million into a regional business hub.
Tourism, Tunisia’s second largest source of income (only preceded by the petroleum industry), has obtained a privileged position in the country’s economy. Today the country attracts more than six million visitors per year. The hotel accommodations and other tourist facilities are of an impeccable quality.
Tunisia has is now striving towards a diversification of its tourist industry. The southern part of Tunisia – where tourists can participate in a wide range of sports and cultural activities – is one of the first regions to be promoted by the Tunisian government as a leading tourist destination. The UAE tourist will be pleasantly surprised to discover the breathtaking Tunisian landscape – a perfect harmony of dunes and oases.
The efforts of Tunisia, who’s capital city Tunis, is emblematic of the open-mindedness of its inhabitants – the mosque stands alongside the church in perfect harmony – have encouraged the development of a brand new flourishing sector in the tourist industry.
Tunis is a modern and lively city with highways, subway stations and cloverleaf intersections. Beautiful beaches are nearby and the city has many good hotels and restaurants, as well as modern stadiums, excellent museums and a zoo. It has over one million inhabitants and a university that is even older than the Sorbonne or Oxford. It also houses the headquarters of the Arab League.
Tunisia’s progress towards a first world economic status shows no signs of abating. If anything, the pace is quickening. GDP growth this year is expected to hit the 6 per cent mark. Following an average growth rate of around 5 per cent for the last decade, this is a remarkable performance, especially for a country with few natural resources. However, what the country lacks in terms of natural resources, it more than compensates for in human resources. It is using the skills of its people to make things for which there is a high international demand. By involving its people in its economic agenda, the country’s leadership has been able to achieve greater economic success. The result has been remarkable political stability in a volatile region, the highest per capita income and the best literacy rate in Africa, easily the most qualified workforce on the continent and a superb, modern infrastructure.
Given such a positove outlook, it is not surprising that some 2,000 international companies have invested in Tunisia. This year alone, the country expects to attract another $500 million worth of foreign direct investment. This industrial muscle, added to the thousands of world-class Tunisian enterprises, equals an African Singapore in the making.
Tunisia’s immediate goal is to be fully prepared for the 2008 free trade zone agreement with the EU. This entails two separate challenges. The first is to upgrade, modernise and increase physical infrastructure and the second, perhaps more important, is to raise human performance levels. Both strands of the strategy are well under way. Tunisia today is a hive of furious activity. At least 45 major construction projects, with a value of around $4.6 billion, are either well advanced or nearing completion. As you travel around Tunisia, the phrase ‘building the future’ takes on literal meaning.
The country is preparing itself for the larger volume and faster pace of economic activity that the EU agreement will entail. The Tunis-Carthage International airport has already been expanded and road and rail networks are increasing steadily. Berthing space and port facilities are undergoing continuous upgrading.
Tunisia’s investment in education is one of the highest in the world. Some 92 per cent of six to 12 year-olds attend school. Women now form a vital segment of the skilled workforce. The universities produce 1,000 engineers every year. Over the next few years, virtually every school leaver will be computer literate. The combination of these factors has produced easily the most skilled and best qualified workforce in Africa (even including Mauritius) – and one of the best in the southern Mediterranean.
However, the real reasons of Tunisia’s achievements lie in accurately forecasting future international trends. The country realised the implications of globalisation well before many others. It could see not only that markets were becoming more international but that the entire production process itself was being internationalised. As a result, Tunisia’s spectacular economic growth is often termed as a classic example of how to turn disadvantages into opportunities.