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French Version

Tourism in 2003 passes million mark despite 2 ‘black months’ - Iraq war killed industry in March, April

For the first time in nearly 20 years, Lebanon has received over one million tourists, although 2003 was one of the most strenuous years the industry has faced since the last major Israeli attacks that took place in 1996.

According to statistics from the Tourism Ministry, the only years the country had exceeded the one million mark was in 1972 ­ when 1,028,798 tourists arrived ­ and in 1974 ­ when there were 1,423,950 tourists.

In 2003, over 1,015,800 tourists visited the country, marking the “resurrection of Lebanon’s tourism industry,” said the director-general of the Tourism Ministry, Nada Sardouq, on Friday, during an interview with The Daily Star.

Compared to 2002, there has been a 6 percent increase in tourist arrivals ­ a number far less impressive than the 14 percent increase of last year.

However, such growth comes as an impressive achievement, especially taking into consideration the US-led war on Iraq, which seriously hit the region’s tourism industry, including Lebanon’s.

During the months of March, April and May of last year ­ when the coalition forces began threatening the former Iraqi leader’s regime and attacked it ­ tourist arrivals dropped by 32 percent, 23 percent and 5 percent respectively. Lebanon’s hotel industry was struck the hardest by the drops in arrivals, with many postponed and canceled room reservations and business conferences. The months of March and April became widely known as the “black months” within the industry, to a point where the Lebanese Hotel Association held heated extraordinary meetings requesting financial help from the government. Requests that were not met.

Nonetheless, still according to statistics from the Tourism Ministry, the months of June, July, August, September and November grew by 4 percent, 8 percent, 23 percent, 18 percent and 27 percent, respectively, compared to 2002. “The year 2004 will be even more successful since we are planning to be present at more industry exhibitions and international tourism fairs,” Sardouq told The Daily Star.

According to the director-general, the Tourism Ministry had invited over 160 journalists from 60 different media institutions in 2003 alone. In 2002, the ministry had only invited some 50 journalists. “We have also inserted advertisements for Lebanon in 15 different tourist magazines to create more awareness within the industry that Lebanon could become the next hip destination,” she added.

What is the result of all this?

Newsweek, for example, published in an October issue that Beirut is one of the top 12 “Capitals of Style,” competing with cities such as Paris and Los Angeles. Another Newsweek issue named the capital ­ along with Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo ­ as the best place to be for New Year.

In addition, the Economy Ministry has invested money to promote the country on CNN, in a $1 million campaign that will start by the end of this month.

Beirut,01 19 2004
Tarek El Zein
The Daily Star
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