Among the countries being represented at the World Travel Market Show in London this week, eager to strengthen their economies were Algeria, Israel, Palestine and Serbia.

Tourist chiefs from 28 countries were at the show, handing out glossy holiday brochures and flashing smiles at visitors and tour operators planning holiday breaks.

Michelle Cohen from the Israeli tourist board told AFP she was hopeful Israel would be able to attract greater levels of tourism in the future. 

The tourism industry has all but collapsed in Israel, in contrast to several years ago when visitor levels peaked at three million.

"People understand that the attacks don't target tourists," she said referring to Palestinian resistance attacks inside Israel.

Slump

The Israeli economy has been hit hard by the Palestinian Intifada (uprising) against Israeli military occupation with tourist numbers falling to their lowest levels in 20 years.

The Palestinian Intifada has cost
Israel's economy $2.8bn

The Bank of Israel estimates the cycle of violence has cost the Israeli economy $2.8 billion, mostly in lost tourism revenue.

Information from the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics shows that visitors to Israel dropped to 862,300 in 2002, down 29% from the previous year and the lowest numbers since 1982, when Israel invaded Lebanon.

The economy plunged into recession in early 2001, shrinking by 1.0% in 2002. Unemployment rates in the country stand at 10.5%, with the highest unemployment levels found among the Arab residents living inside Israel.

Saudi Arabia

Other seemingly unlikely destination such as Saudi Arabia were also keen to emphasise what good points they could offer.

"Saudi Arabia: the unknown country," was the appropriate slogan on brochures for the country, which hopes to attract Western tourists as well as the 3.5 million Muslim pilgrims who travel to Makka each year. 

However the country has been in the headlines recently because of its nationals' alleged role in the 11 September attacks and a series of bombings in Saudi Arabia itself, the most recent of which killed 17 people just over a week ago. 

This made life difficult, admitted Abd Allah al-Jihani, vice president of marketing for Saudi Arabian Airlines.

"But tourists haven't been targeted," he pointed out, insisting
that the kingdom was "one of world's safest places".