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Facts and Figures :
The overall number of tourists visiting Lebanon has steadily increased since 2000 to reach1 100 000 in 2003. On one hand, September the 11th has affected the number of European and American visitors but on the other hand it increased the number of visitors of Arab origin due to the difficulties they faced to get visas to Western countries.

Lebanon is the only country in the region where one can find a lifestyle, nightlife and entertainment facilities as the one encountered in Western countries.

Tourism professionals told us they noticed a significant raise of far east and south east Asian travellers. A similar trend is observed with Maghreb’s tourists, especially Tunisians and Moroccans whose purchasing power is increasing steadily.It is important to say that the Beirut International Airport is now fully operational. Two Arab low-cost airlines should be operating in the coming months, one of them is headquartered in Beirut and, beyond Arab countries, it is likely to fly to Europe.

Tourism has traditionally played a key role in the Lebanese economy. The country is located at the crossroad of three continents and offers a wide diversity of archaeological and cultural tourist attractions. Furthermore, the climate permits two distinct seasons: winters in the mountains with their ski resorts, and summers on the beaches by the sea.

A substantial effort will have to be made in order to market Lebanon as a tourist destination. The Middle East's Switzerland has suffered during the war, and the instability in the region is affecting this industry. However important events are taking place in Lebanon throughout the year, with a peak during the summer with the Baalbek and Beit ed Dine festivals. It is worth mentioning that these festivals have welcomed prestigious international stars like Elton John, Sting and Rostropovich.

Le Sommet de la Francophonie was supposed to be held in Beirut in 2001 but the development on the international scene compelled the organisers to postpone it to 2002. This event brought a massive international media coverage that was needed in a country that still faces a deficit in term of image, especially towards European and American markets...

This does not apply to the tourists coming from the Arab countries and the Gulf, who have always considered Lebanon a privileged destination for their holidays. They represent the main flow of tourists, both in the number of visitors and in the duration of their stay.

Proof of the confidence that these people have in this industry in Lebanon is the level of their investments in building resorts, hotels etc.

Another source of revenue has come to light in the past few years: business tourism. Many exhibitions, trade shows and conferences are now organised in Beirut. The small size of the country and its multilingual and open-minded inhabitants make it ideal for this kind of corporate tourism. The recently opened hotels are taking this fact into consideration, and many of these offer over 100 rooms as well as all the facilities required to welcome such events.

The tourist potential is far from being fully exploited, and we have good reason to believe that Lebanon will recover its past glory. Having two million visitors per year is a common expectancy figure, and achieving it would create jobs and give the tourism industry its pre-war prominence of economic importance. This sector once employed roughly 20% of the active Lebanese population.

Yann Rotil