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Tunisia bets "revolution" will boost tourism

A Tunisian riot policeman takes shelter behind a door while protesters throw stones during clashes in Tunis January 28, 2011. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisia’s tourism industry recorded a sharp drop in activity during January, but authorities expect a public revolt that toppled the country’s president during the same month to appeal to more visitors.

Tourism receipts in 2010 inched up 1 percent from their level the previous year to 3.5 billion dinars ($2.48 billion) with around 7 million tourist arrivals, Tourism Minister Mehdi Houass told reporters Friday.

Tourism is the country’s top foreign currency earner and employs 400,000 people, making it the second biggest employer after agriculture.

Thousands of tourists were evacuated as protests reached a head in January though hotels say January was the middle of the low season for the Mediterranean country.

“The sector was down 40 percent in January but we are very optimistic for the first six months of 2011,” he said.

“The revolution has made our country known to the whole world ... I think it is a good promotion ... We want to tell all our friends that they can come to Tunisia in a atmosphere of peace (and) freedom,” he added.

Tunisia plans to boost security and introduce “innovative products” to boost the industry this year, Houass said.

The North African country is among the continent’s leading touristic destinations.