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French Version

Tourism growth fails to take Iraq war into account

Lebanon has witnessed an impressive and unprecedented surge in tourist arrivals for the first five months of this year, but the official growth rate has been overstated since it doesn't take into account the negative effect of last year's Iraqi war on the tourism industry.

According to figures released by the Tourism Ministry, a total of 372,689 tourists visited the country in the first five months of 2004, which constitutes a 48.4 percent growth compared to the same period last year.

But during the same period last year, Lebanon, as well as the entire region, was struck hard by the US-led war on Iraq. During the months of March, April and May of 2003 - when the coalition forces prepared their attack and launched it - tourist arrivals into Lebanon dropped by 32 percent, 23 percent and 5 percent respectively. Lebanon's hotel industry was struck even harder, with many canceling and postponing room reservations and business conferences. March and April became known as the black months for the industry, to a point where the Lebanese Hotel Association held heated extraordinary meetings requesting financial help from the government, but in vain.

Therefore the first five months of 2003 are not valid figures to illustrate the real status of the current tourism industry.

When compared to the same period in 2002, a "peace time" year when tourist arrivals increased by 14 percent compared to a year earlier, Lebanon's tourist arrivals still increased by a significant 34.9 percent.

The rise is partially attributable to the introduction of documentaries on tourism in Lebanon, which have been broadcast on international television stations such as CNN, as well as the sudden European interest in the country. Indeed, in May 2004, when 85,133 tourists visited Lebanon, for the first time tourists from Europe exceeded those arriving from Arab countries as they reached 27,004 compared to 26,372 Arabs. Even though Europeans tourist are gaining ground on Arab tourists, the latter still represented 37 percent of total tourist arrivals for the first five months of 2004, while Europeans constituted 30 percent.

Beirut,06 21 2004
Tarek El Zein
The Daily Star
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