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Sarkis outlines impact of war, wobbly political situation on tourism sector

The tourism sector, which was badly hit during the July-August war, has no chance to revive again if the political standoff continues in 2007, Tourism Minister Joe Sarkis warned on Tuesday.

Speaking to reporters at the Tourism Ministry, Sarkis said that you can't promote Lebanon as a tourist destination when someone threatens to close the airport road and pitch camps in the Beirut Central District.

Most hotels in Beirut and the mountains have seen their business drop by more than 60 percent during and since the summer 2006 war with Lebanon.

Sarkis projected last year that Lebanon would generate $2 billion from the tourism season but the devastating conflict changed everything.

The number of visitors to the country improved a little bit in September and October but opposition protests that began in Downtown Beirut on December 1 have scared many tourists away.

According to Sarkis, the number of visitors in 2006 declined by 6.7 percent to 1.062 million as a result of the war and political tension.

"I think 2004 was the best year for the tourism sector in Lebanon when 1.3 million visited the country. This figure dropped to 1.139 million in 2005 and 1.062 million in 2006," Sarkis said.

He added that the Tourism Ministry lobbied hard after the end of the war to lure back tourists to Lebanon.

"We received a good number of visitors in September and October but the opposition forces suddenly decided to escalate the situation, which scared away potential tourists," Sarkis said.

He stressed that tourism will never prosper if the political situation does not improve.

"The impact of the tense political situation on the productive sectors such as industry, trade and agriculture are far less than the tourism industry."

Sarkis said that the World Tourism Organization had projected revenues of tourism in Lebanon to rise to $4.4 billion in the coming years.

The minister said that Lebanon will play host to four important tourist conferences this year that will surely improve the climate.

He added that the Tourism Ministry also plans to launch a media campaign to promote tourism this year.

Sarkis said that Prime Minister Fouad Siniora projected GDP growth of 6 percent before the war broke out and most of this growth was to come from the tourism season.

He also cautioned that many restaurants, stores and companies may be forced to lay off their staff if the political impasse is not broken soon.

Sarkis hailed the Paris III donor conference, which will be held on January 25.

"We have to create a positive climate in the country to ensure the success of Paris III," he said.

He appealed to all political groups to set their differences aside for the sake of the country and the tourism sector.

Beirut 17-01-2007
Redaction
The Daily Star



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