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French Version

New advertising campaign aims to put Lebanon back on the tourism map

Interview

With the objective of promoting Lebanon's image and put it back on the radar screen of would be tourists, a new one million-something dollars advertising campaign will be launched soon and viewed worldwide on prestigious satellite channels, according to Tourism Minster Joseph Sarkis. The campaign will help the sector recover after it suffered a 10 percent loss in 2005, with only 1.1 million tourists visiting the country amid the ongoing political strife and security instability.

In 2004, the number of tourists reached 1.3 million for the first time in many years as investments poured into the country from different directions, with a special emphasis on the hotel sector.

"The figures in 2005 show that although the country witnessed a string of terrorist activities, assassinations and explosions, tourists kept visiting Lebanon ... it remained a major tourism destination," said Sarkis during an interview with The Daily Star.

"These almost steady gains reinforce our hope that Lebanon tourism would have a bright and promising future, if we properly use its economic potentials," added Sarkis.

This campaign will complement the 2004 "Rediscover Lebanon" one, which was produced and executed by CNN International and funded by the government of slain former premier and business tycoon Rafik Hariri.

The campaign, like its precedent, will be designed to challenge existing preconceptions about Lebanon and reinstate confidence in the country as a safe and culturally rich destination for tourists.

"These ads not only promote tourism but also the political situation ... they will send Lebanon's enemies, who have been trying to destroy the country, a political message that we have, and can, overcome all obstacles," added Sarkis.

Although Lebanon was plunged into political and security turmoil in 2005, new hotels and other tourist attractions continued to come on-stream with several luxurious hotels due to open soon. Foreign investments have reached $2 billion over the past decade.

But the sector, which once used to contribute 20 percent of Gross Domestic Product, compared to 9 percent currently, is being severely marginalized with a yearly budget of $8 million, of which only one third can be used for tourism investments.

Although Lebanon enjoys all the prerequisites to attract tourists, which if used adequately can lead to major economic growth, the challenges the sector faces are enormous and it is badly in need of a complementary national vision to develop it, according Sarkis.

The country is famous for its mild climate, friendly people and ancient culture dating back to the days of the Phoenicians and its proximity to both the Arab and European markets.

There are also excellent new prospects to extend tourism activities to areas outside Beirut including agro-tourism and sports-oriented tourism.

"Here lies the importance of a new vision to work out a strategy that can help boost the tourist sector, so that it can constitute part of a comprehensive strategy to develop the economy," said Sarkis.

According to Sarkis "changing the mentality of officials and their perception of the sector" will help the sector develop.

"The tourism industry is very important to Lebanon and can effectively contribute to the creation of economic and social solutions for many of the challenges that we face," said Sarkis.

"Therefore it should be considered among one of the top economic sectors and all government institutions should assist it," said Sarkis.

"When the political and security situation becomes stable and tourists' confidence in Lebanon is re-established and translated into greater numbers of visitors, I think the government's interest in developing the sector will increase," Sarkis said.

"I am receiving positive reactions from the government, but it is on a very tight budget at the moment, which does not allow any extra support for the Tourism Ministry," he added.

Currently there is a tourism plan that was developed in 1998 and which is periodically updated, but the plan does not take into consideration any of the events that happened in 2005.

Sarkis said he has presented the government with a new plan to develop the sector technically and administratively so it can cope with the latest international tourist developments and cater for bigger numbers.

Beirut,03 21 2006
Nada Bakri
The Daily Star
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