The country’s tourism sector – once the backbone of this tiny Middle Eastern nation’s now beleaguered economy – is booming thanks to positive publicity in the international media, said industry officials on Wednesday.
“In October, Beirut was listed as one of the 12 capitals of style in Newsweek. This has made Lebanon competitive with cities such as Paris and Los Angeles,” said Minister Ali Husain Abd Allah.
Once hailed as the Paris of the Middle East, Beirut’s tourism sector went up in flames when the country’s civil war erupted in 1975 and devastated the country’s economy until 1990.
The country’s image was further marred by the kidnappings and killings of foreigners.
When the war ended in 1990, the country’s allure quickly brought tourists back to its shores. During the 1990s, Arab tourists began to frequent the country’s many tourist attractions as they once did in the 60s and 70s.
Tourism has been on the rise in Lebanon for several years,
breaking the million-visitor mark last year for the first time in
three decades. The country is aiming to break its record year in 1974 when Beirut received 1.4 million holidaymakers.
Dahr al-Qadib peak, some 2,800
Today tourists from the neighbouring Gulf region and Arab world make up 43% of visitors.
The 9/11 attacks in the US changed the dynamics of Arab and regional tourism as US authorities set up stringent security measures and made entry visas difficult to procure, particularly for citizens of Arab countries.
Lebanon became the top destination in the Arab world as tourist agencies booked trips to Beirut rather than New York or Paris, which were regular Arab haunts over the summer.
These tourists found they were able to get the lifestyle, nightlife and entertainment facilities found in Western countries while still speaking Arabic.
A record number of more than 200,000 Saudis are expected to visit Lebanon this summer, said the kingdom’s new ambassador in Beirut, Abd al-Aziz Mahieddin al-Khoja, on Thursday.
Tourism has previously played a key role in the Lebanese economy. At one point this sector employed some 20% of the population.
The country also hosts the Beiteddine and Baalbek festivals every summer which attract international and Arab performers, dance troupes, ballets, operas and other musicians.