Tunisia tourism nostalgic for Ben Ali era stability

Updated 15 February 2013

Tunisia tourism nostalgic for Ben Ali era stability

As Tunisia slips deeper into crisis two years after the revolution, workers in the once-thriving tourism sector say they miss the stability they knew under the dictatorship of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. “Before, we lived better. Nothing happened under Ben Ali. We were at peace. Security was better,” said Mahmud Ben Rabeh who runs a crafts stall in the blue and white hilltop village of Sidi Bou Said overlooking the Mediterranean.
“It is good that he left but before it was much better,” he said of the veteran leader who was ousted two years ago in a popular uprising that set off the Arab Spring in other regional countries fed up with autocratic rule.
The hilltop village is a prime Tunisian destination. But now the streets are empty and merchants like Ben Rabah say they can barely survive.
“I’ve been selling crafts for 25 years but I never was short of cash like now. I sold all my wife’s jewelry, even our wedding rings. I’ve got nothing left,” he said. The authorities have been unable to determine whether the blaze was an accident or a deliberate attack by militants, who have been blamed for looting historical sites in recent months.
A militant group was arrested in early December after a similar blaze at a historical site of Saida Manoubia in Tunis. Militants in Tunisia, thought to number between 3,000 and 10,000, have grown in influence since the revolution that brought to power the moderate Ennahda party.
Militants are accused of a wave of violence, and suspected of masterminding an attack last September on the US embassy in Tunis.
A once proud nation under Ben Ali, Tunisia has also been rocked by political and social unrest.
The February 6 killing of leftist politician and vocal government critic Chokri Belaid triggered street clashes between the police and angry opposition protesters, and has enflamed tensions between political rivals. A hotel manager is Sidi Bou Said said the revolution had blighted tourism, but he refused to be named “because I am afraid I will be gunned down” like Belaid.
“Tourism has been devastated since the revolution. Reservations are unpredictable; we cannot plan ahead. It is worse than during Ben Ali’s days, when Tunisia was stable and it was good for business,” he said.
A vital sector of the economy and key source of foreign currency, tourism represents 6.5 percent of gross domestic product in Tunisia.
But it has taken a beating since the revolution, leaving the hotel manager and others working in the sector fearful.
“We can barely pay our electricity bills and the salaries of the staff and there is nothing to reassure us on the horizon. Nothing expect violence,” he said.
Moncef, a waiter at the famous open air Cafe de Delices that overlooks the bay, agrees with those who say “We lived better under Ben Ali and earned a good living.”

Ben Ali ruled with an iron-fist, repressing militants. Under his reign insurgents were never seen in tourist districts.
In post-revolution Tunisia the opposition and civil society groups blame the Ennahda Islamic party for showing complacency towards the insurgents.
Tunisian analyst Slah Jourchi warned against disenchantment, however, saying it could be exploited by ex-regime diehards.
Jourchi, who sits on a so-called “council of wise men” set up by Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali to try to resolve the crisis, said all politicians were responsible and should work together to find a solution.

Bulgari hotel: An Italian escape in Dubai

Luxury doesn’t shout its presence with bling or ostentatious features, instead it quietly whispers. (bulgarihotels.com)
Updated 19 April 2018

Bulgari hotel: An Italian escape in Dubai

  • The “urban oasis” is currently the only hotel situated on the offshore Jumeira Bay island
  • Home to just 110 rooms, suites and villas, the sprawling low-rise property oozes Italian elegance with its minimalist aesthetic

DUBAI: Bulgari, the venerated Italian design house, has just five hotels around the world. And even in Dubai — a city crammed with luxury hotels — the Bulgari Resort manages to seem exclusive. The “urban oasis” is currently the only hotel situated on the offshore Jumeira Bay island, offering guests some respite from the city’s often-hectic atmosphere, even though it is literally minutes away from the pulsing heart of Dubai.

Home to just 110 rooms, suites and villas, the sprawling low-rise property oozes Italian elegance with its minimalist aesthetic. Master architects Antonio Citterio and Patricia Viel — who are responsible for all the Bulgari hotels worldwide — have used a neutral color palette and custom motifs, such as coral-inspired lacquered steel parapets and mashrabiya-patterned accents, to give the hotel a sense of place.

Here, luxury doesn’t shout its presence with bling or ostentatious features, instead it quietly whispers, with fine materials — from Italian marble to sumptuous silks, impeccable attention to detail, and touches including the signature fragrance that wafts around you from the second you enter.

The hotel is responsible for a couple of firsts for the brand, including its ‘Little Gems’ kids club — where children are entertained with bespoke activities such as cooking classes and treasure hunts while their parents enjoy some downtime — and the global debut of the Bulgari Marina & Yacht Club, which has its own pool and recreation facilities, signature seafood restaurant, and 50-berth harbor.

All rooms and suites feature a walk-in closet, spacious balconies, smooth one-touch button controls, and bathrooms with standalone tubs boasting enviable views — making for some excellent Insta-fodder. The signature trunk-style mini-bar is as funky as it is functional, and the trendy basket beach bags are perfect for stashing your souvenirs — including designer knick-knacks from on-site concept store La Galleria.

The one-, two-, and three-bedroom villas offer private pools and butler service, but you don’t want to miss the resort’s circular central pool, where luxury cabanas with oversized daybeds and on-call service invite you to lounge the day away. Just adjacent is the crescent-shaped private beach, with the gentle waters of the Arabian Gulf offering perfect swimming conditions, even if the tip of the seahorse-shaped island mars the view slightly.

Whether you opt for a beach-and-pool day or a Dubai-sightseeing trip, your evening should definitely be devoted to the quintessentially Italian aperitivo experience at Il Bar, where an oval-shaped chrome counter provides a social centerpiece, and an outdoor terrace offers marina views. The seriously chic Il Ristorante (by lauded Italian chef Niko Romito) is just next door, and shares the terrace. Its tiramisu is one of the best in town, as is the freshly baked rustic bread.

Offering a more pared-back dining experience are La Spiaggia, a beachside restaurant and bar, and Il Café, the Bulgari take on a casual all-day dining destination which still features jaw-dropping design, and, in line with the whole ‘nothing is too much trouble’ service ethos, serves breakfast all day.

That ethos extends to the spa too, where therapists provide the ultimate in pampering using top-shelf products, including La Mer, in a soothing nature-inspired space. The use of rare precious materials, including grey Vicenza stone and green onyx, infuse the environment with a subtle opulence.

A 25-meter indoor swimming pool with its own cabanas, extensive facilities (including a shower offering a “Caribbean thunderstorm” experience), and private hammam, plus an exclusive Lee Mullins training program at the state-of-the-art gym complete the impressive recreation facilities at the resort.

If you’re looking for a classy, authentic ‘slice-of-Italy’ experience in the Middle East, then the Bulgari Resort Dubai is where you should check in.