White tents camp in the Sahara desert in Tunisia. (Photo: Xinhua)
TUNIS, April 29 (Xinhua) -- The vast Sahara desert area in Tunisia, which is regarded as one of the North African country's most important tourism resources, has gradually attracted more and more Chinese tourists.
"DESERT-STYLE" TENTS CAMP
After nearly four hours' bumpy drive from the small town of Douz in southern Tunisia, a row of white tents appeared among the golden sand.
To Nouael Kamel, a 52-year-old local guide, the famous tents camp is one of the must-have ways of experiencing the Sahara tour.
"This year, the tourism business is better than last year," Nouael said. "Especially, I begin to take more Chinese tourists into the Sahara."
With no electricity and a great lack of water, inside the tents were candlesticks, kettle sinks, and toilet filled with wood chips, in an original "desert style."
Take a stroll outside the tents, to the sand dunes, one can immediately found himself surrounded by the vastness and silence of Sahara sand sea. Under the sunset, Sahara showed its beautiful shape.
Liu Xiaokai and Zhou Li, a young couple from Beijing, enjoyed their stay in the tents camp.
"This is our first time here, and such a close touch with Sahara is so exciting", said Liu.
Liu and Zhou wrote each other's names on the soft sand, and drew a large sign of love heart around the words.
"In China, people always associate Sahara with romantic love," Zhou laughed. "There is a famous saying, 'every time I miss you, the sky fell a grain of sand, then there forms the Sahara'."
When night fell, fires were lit up in the camp. Under the stars was the mysterious and romantic night of Sahara.
Thanks to its unique geographical landscape, the Sahara desert in Tunisia, has been a favored location of film shootings for directors.
It was chosen as a major film location for the classics "Star Wars" and "The English Patient."
The magnificent canyon in the film "The English Patient." (Photo: Xinhua)
The symbolic spaceport on Tatooine planet was located in Sahara near Tozeur in southern Tunisia, and some originally-built scenes still stand here.
A group of Chinese fans of Star Wars toured around and took photos of the scenes.
"Some houses are a little bit damaged, but it doesn't matter at all. I am so excited to find here these treasurable memories," said He Wei, a 35-year-old tourist from Shanghai.
The house of Luke Skywalker, a major character in the Star Wars series, was located near Matmata in southern Tunisia.
It was originally a residence of indigenous inhabitants Berbers, before it was transformed into a cave-style hotel after the films.
Salah Ajala, 56 years old, who worked at the hotel reception desk, told Xinhua "although nowadays there are fewer bookings than in the past, we are still optimistic about the future. To eat at Luke's table and sleep in Luke's room, this is our advantage."
"More Chinese tourists come here and pay to take photos, this is also good business," said Ajala.
In February 2017, Tunisia decided to offer visa-free entry to Chinese tourists for stays of no more than 90 days in the country.
Since then, China has become Tunisia's fastest-growing source country of tourists, with arrivals rising from about 7,400 in 2016 to over 18,000 in 2017.
Amouar Chetoui, the deputy representative in Beijing Bureau of Tunisian National Tourism Office, expected Chinese tourists in Tunisia to reach 50,000 by the year 2020.
Tunisia witnessed a slump in its tourism since 2015 when three major terrorist attacks claimed the lives of more than 70 people, mostly foreign tourists and security forces.
Accounting for about 8 percent of the country's GDP, tourism sector started to recover slowly in 2017, and registered a growth of over 20 percent by receiving more than 7 million tourists from all over the world, according to Tunisian Tourism Ministry.
At the beginning of this year, Tunisian Minister of Tourism Salma Elloumi estimated that 8 million tourists will head for Tunisia in 2018.
The forecast was based on indicators such as recovery of traditional markets and opening of new major markets such as China.