(CNN)The June 26 beach resort massacre in Tunisia will deal a massive blow to the country’s tourism industry, but while many visitors have chosen to switch or cut short their travel plans, there are others who insist on staying.
Deserted sands in front of the Riu Imperial Marhaba hotel, where at least 38 mainly British people were killed, convey the grief and horror experienced in the wake of the incident.
They’re also likely to be symbolic of the tough times ahead for Tunisia, where a vital tourism recovery in the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings had already been dented by a deadly attack in March on tourists at a museum in the capital, Tunis.
Not all is lost though.
For some visitors to Tunisia, the killings have provoked a defiant response. Scared and still grieving for their fellow vacationers, some have refused offers from travel companies to bring them back early and opted to stay.
Others, offered the chance to cancel future plans, have declined, insisting the country is still relatively safe — and now, more than ever, needs their support.
British vacationers David and Jean Rapetti, in Tunisia to celebrate their 55th wedding anniversary, were among those swept up in Friday’s violence as guests.
Four days later, after most others had been evacuated on emergency flights laid on to repatriate those affected, the Rapettis were still guests at the Riu Imperial.
“We were probably about 30 yards — 30 meters — away from the gunman, which was near enough anyhow,” David Rapetti tells CNN. “And I was frightened.”
“All I saw him doing was firing, I saw three people lying on the floor and I had no idea whether they were dead.”
The Rapettis say they were able to escape the gunman’s bullets by running back into the hotel and hiding in a room, but the attack and its aftermath still haunt them.
“Never having seen people in such terrible emotional turmoil, it wasn’t us that was suffering,” adds Rapetti. “It was other people and to come to terms with this grief has taken us a lot of time.”
Further along the beach in the resort town of Sousse, the scene of Friday’s attack, European vacationers are still making their daily pilgrimages to the shoreline and poolside to soak up the Mediterranean sunshine, despite the shadow cast by the bloodshed.
“It’s a very different atmosphere now, very chilling” says one vacationer from Norwich, UK, who gave his name as Nathan.
“It is not the same as it was, but I think what we’re going to do is stay here until our holiday finishes and then leave.”
He says he’s cautious about the possibility of further risks, but reassured by the security provided at his hotel.
“We don’t really want to venture too far outside of the resort, because we are just unsure what’s going to happen, but I think we are in the safest place at this time.”
Longer term, there are fears from Tunisian officials that safety concerns will punch a huge hole in the tourism revenues that directly contribute to about 7% of the country’s GDP.
“The attack had a great impact on the economy, the losses will be large,” Salma Loumi, Tunisia’s tourism minister, told reporters, according to Reuters.
Resilience in the face of crisis
For all the uncertainty around the future of Tunisia’s tourism sector, its appeal to European vacationers as a high quality but relatively low-cost destination for year-round sunshine has seen it partially weather several crises in recent years.
It may also take comfort in the resilience of other prime vacation hotspots similarly devastated by acts of terror targeting tourists.
The Indonesian island of Bali was hit by two terror bombings in 2002 and 2005, the first killing 202 people, the last 20. Tough times for its tourism industry followed, but its enduring allure helped it bounce back, with visitor numbers now far exceeding pre-attack levels.
The ancient Egyptian city of Luxor has suffered more mixed fortunes. It saw some recovery after visitor numbers slumped in the wake of a 1997 attack, but further security incidents and political upheaval in the country have conspired to keep levels low.
What could prove crucial is the advice given by governments to their citizens thinking about visiting Tunisia.
Belgium, reportedly, is so far alone in issuing a new blanket warning against any travel to the country.
Others such as the United States, have reiterated or strengthened the tone of existing advice which urges caution in some areas.
The UK’s warns of the potential for attack, but somewhat controversially stops short of telling people to stay away.
“Further terrorist attacks in Tunisia, including in tourist resorts, are possible, including by individuals who are unknown to the authorities and whose actions are inspired by terrorist groups via social media,” the advisory states.
‘Situation could get worse’
It warns of problems at Tunisia’s porous border with Libya and the country’s interior, but adds that “most British tourists stay in the coastal resorts and most visits are trouble free.”
For Samantha Potts, a customer relations worker from Devon, UK, that advice and the June 26 attack are not enough to put her off the return visit she’s already booked with her family to Tunisia in August.
She says other terror incidents, including the July 2005 strikes on London’s transport system, the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington and recent killings in Paris have not stopped her visiting those destinations.
“I think it can happen wherever you are at any point,” she says. “I don’t think that going to somewhere that’s had a terror attack necessarily means you’re in any more danger than in your local town center.”
Potts says a tourism boycott of Tunisia could prove more dangerous for the rest of the world in the long run than maintaining a flow of visitors.
“When we went in 2013 we were told repeatedly when we were there about how much people appreciated people coming over, coming to their country for holidays and helping the local tourist industry and I think that’s really important.
“I think if people stopped going, the amount of money the country would lose due of tourism could possibly make the whole situation worse.
“They’re not going to have the money coming in to educate people properly or to have the amount of police patrols that we saw two years ago — there was quite a high level of police patrols on the beach then and we felt very safe.”