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Sunday 20 August 2017

Hotel in Tunisia where 38 tourists were massacred reopens with a new name

Kantaui Bay, Tunisia

Tunisian employees prepare tables prior to the reopening of the Imperial Merhaba Hotel in Port el-Kantaoui, on the outskirts of Sousse south of the capital Tunis on April 21, 2017. Photo: FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images
Tunisian employees prepare tables prior to the reopening of the Imperial Merhaba Hotel in Port el-Kantaoui, on the outskirts of Sousse south of the capital Tunis on April 21, 2017. Photo: FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images
Tourists swim under the jets inside a swimming pool in the "Kantaoui Bay". Photo: FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images
Tunisian employees set up deck chairs on the beach of the Imperial Merhaba Hotel in Port el-Kantaoui, on the outskirts of Sousse south of the capital Tunis on April 21, 2017. Photo: FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images
Zohra Driss, owner of the Imperial Merhaba Hotel poses outside the venue in Port el-Kantaoui, on the outskirts of Sousse south of the capital Tunis on April 21, 2017. Photo: FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images
Holidaymakers view flowers left on Marhaba beach where 38 people were killed in a terrorist attack in June 2015 in Sousse, Tunisia

Natalie Paris

The hotel where 38 tourists, including three Irish citizens, were killed in a terrorist shooting in Tunisia has reopened after nearly two years, under a new name.

Now rebranded as Kantaoui Bay, the Imperial Marhaba Hotel has passed hands from Spain’s Riu chain to Steigenberger, a German hotel group that also has properties in Brussels, Frankfurt and Sharm el Sheikh.

In June 2015, Seifeddine Rezgui walked through what was the Imperial Marhaba Hotel, systematically shooting dead 38 holidaymakers.

“You cannot forget,” said Zohra Driss, the hotel's owner. “On the day we reopened, I could think only of the victims and their families.”

Driss told the AFP news agency that nearly 6 million dinars (£1.9m) has been spent on her hotel. “We changed nearly everything,” she said, “the decor, colour scheme, furniture, the gardens.”

On Friday, workers were still fixing small jobs in the hotel which employs nearly 200 people.

Zohra Driss, owner of the Imperial Merhaba Hotel poses outside the venue in Port el-Kantaoui, on the outskirts of Sousse south of the capital Tunis on April 21, 2017. Photo: FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images
Zohra Driss, owner of the Imperial Merhaba Hotel poses outside the venue in Port el-Kantaoui, on the outskirts of Sousse south of the capital Tunis on April 21, 2017. Photo: FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images

A government representative with the ruling Nidaa Tounes party called the reopening a “breath of rebirth” that enabled people “to have new confidence in life”.

All hotel staff members managed to keep their jobs following the massacre and subsequent rebranding.

A plaque stands in memorial to the 38 victims on the beach in front of the hotel and, last June, on the first anniversary of the mass killing, a memorial ceremony attended by emotional hotel workers was held here.

A rose for every victim was placed in the sand.

Tunisian employees set up deck chairs on the beach of the Imperial Merhaba Hotel in Port el-Kantaoui, on the outskirts of Sousse south of the capital Tunis on April 21, 2017. Photo: FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images
Tunisian employees set up deck chairs on the beach of the Imperial Merhaba Hotel in Port el-Kantaoui, on the outskirts of Sousse south of the capital Tunis on April 21, 2017. Photo: FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images

The hotel’s head gardener, who has been in his job for 23 years, told AFP that all the staff are happy to return to work.

The high season for tourists has not yet arrived in Sousse, and there are not so many visitors yet, but rooms at the hotel are currently being sold on Booking.com from around €78 per night.

Some tourists say the massacre has not put them off visiting.

French holidaymaker, Claudine Chevillard, said she had no hesitation at attending the hotel reopening.

Holidaymakers view flowers left on Marhaba beach where 38 people were killed in a terrorist attack in June 2015 in Sousse, Tunisia
Holidaymakers view flowers left on Marhaba beach where 38 people were killed in a terrorist attack in June 2015 in Sousse, Tunisia

“We were told we should not go to Tunisia, because there have been attacks,” she says. “I said ‘I’m going as usual, with no problem’.”

Natalia, a Russian who is visiting Tunisia for the first time with her husband, says she has been there for two days and “it’s safe”.

There has been a marked increase in security since the massacre. After the attack, the then prime minister Habib Essid acknowledged there had been lapses in security, in particular the speed at which the police reacted to the shooting.

Now the security presence is obvious, with fixed barriers and mobile patrols, a somewhat incongruous sight in a resort dedicated to relaxation.

“We’ve spent nearly 500,000 dinars ($200,000) on electronic surveillance gear including cameras and scanners, and now have a control room to monitor the hotel and surroundings,” Ramzi Kessissa, the hotel’s general manager, told AFP.

Tourists swim under the jets inside a swimming pool in the
Tourists swim under the jets inside a swimming pool in the "Kantaoui Bay". Photo: FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images

The Steigenberger hotel website states, “Steigenberger Kantaoui Bay is a perfectly situated beachfront resort in one of the most prestigious Tunisian touristic destination Port El Kantaoui”.

It adds: “This is a relaxing property, where you can spend a beautiful time with the people you love, laying on the beach, practicing sport or be pampered by our professional thalassotherapy team, it depends on your wish, just express it, we are here to make it come true.”

Driss said she is hoping for 90 per cent occupancy this summer, and sees “huge demand” from the German, Russian, Algerian and domestic markets.

“But unfortunately the English are not coming back,” she said.

As well as its proximity to the beach, the hotel has a spa, fitness area, swimming pool and free wi-fi.

The Irish Department of Foreign Affairs and UK Foreign Office still advises their citizens against all but essential travel to the vast majority of the country, and against all travel to the rest.

Telegraph.co.uk

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