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French Version

World Tourism Organization calls for major aid effort to help Lebanon

Body 'wants to send a message of support' for peaceful redevelopment

The secretary general of the World Tourism Organization (WTO) told tourism ministers from 60 Islamic countries late last week that the organization wants to see a strong effort made to redevelop the industry in Lebanon.

"Only tourism can provide sufficient contact" on a personal level to help put war-ravaged Lebanon back on its feet, Francesco Frangialli told a gathering of 60 ministers in Madrid to assess the effect of the recent Israeli offensive on the country.

He added that the WTO "wants to send a message of support" for peaceful redevelopment and added the organization intended to hold a regional meeting on the subject in Beirut by year's end.

Frangialli said tourism's strength was that it helped to do away with misunderstandings between peoples based on the sometimes distorted images they saw from outside of a nation's culture and religion.

He also said that tourism had a central role in aiding economic diversification and providing employment

According to the WTO, the Middle East has been the fastest growing region for tourism during the past decade, with the number of international tourist arrivals to Middle Eastern countries growing by 11 percent annually compared to a 4 percent global growth rate during the same period. The volume of arrivals to the region almost tripling from 13.7 million in 1995 to 39.7 million in 2005.

"In Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, as well as in some destinations in Egypt [Cairo, Alexandria and along the Red Sea coast] the driving force of tourism growth has come from the intra-regional market, especially from the Gulf countries," said a WTO statement issued during the height of the hostilities in July.

Lebanon, which is now relying on tourism as a central pillar of its economy, posted a 37 percent growth rate in the first quarter of the year and almost full occupancy in its hotels, thanks largely to demand from regional tourists.

The Lebanese Tourism Ministry said in June, before the Israeli offensive, that the number of visitors to the country between January and May topped 460,000 and was on course to exceed 1.6 million by year's end for a forecast revenue injection of more than $2 billion. The conflict has cut the expected revenues by 60 percent, according to Tourism Minister Joe Sarkis.

Late last month Sarkis presented a recovery plan to the government to help the ailing sector recover from Sarkis called a "total disaster." The plan asked for a deferral on debt-collection for businesses in the hospitality sector and the ministry is in the midst of conducting a detailed damage assessment based on reports from tourism operators.

Sarkis is also trying to minimize the resulting unemployment for the two-thirds of the labor force employed in the service sector and to organize a fund to compensate those in the local hospitality industry who have already been laid off.

The ministry has also unveiled a $2.6 million marketing plan to woo back gulf tourists in time for the fall religious holidays in the hopes of recouping a portion of losses.

Beirut,09 20 2006
The Daily Star
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