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French Version


Tough times ahead test Lebanese leisure sector (Daily Star)

But visitors for this year could reach 1.3 million

Lebanon's ability to face turbulent times in the region is again being put to the test, according to Lebanese Tourism Minister Ali Abdullah.

With tourist levels "exceeding the one million" mark, Lebanon "is affected by any turn of events in the area," he said.

In a telephone interview with The Daily Star, Abdullah said the country may reach 1.32 million tourists by year's end - a 32 percent increase over last year.

However, he said that following the deadly attacks Thursday night in Taba, Egypt, "tourists started to refrain from heading our way."

He said he received a phone call Friday from an Italian delegation that is postponing its visit from November until next May.

The group, "700 media, travel and tourism agents and officials," expressed reluctance "to come to Lebanon after what happened in Taba," he said.

Abdullah, who said he hopes "the postponement doesn't become a cancelation," said "people have to understand that what happens in one country doesn't necessarily affect other countries."

Abdullah said foreigners never think of Lebanon as another "secluded tourist destination," but rather as part of the whole turbulent Middle East region.

Another group, this time from Germany, is to visit in November, Abdullah said, adding that smaller groups from Switzerland and Austria will also be arriving in December.

He said such groups will play an important role in promoting a positive image of Lebanese tourism abroad, as the Tourism Ministry "will be taking them in tours across the country to show them the true picture of Lebanon."

Abdullah's plan comes as part of the ministry's strategy to attract more tourists.

"As you know, the ministry works within a limited budget," he said; however, "we manage to cover our expenses with the help of the private sector and other sponsors."

Also on Friday, Abdullah headed the first session of the Arab Convention for Travel and Tourism, during which he discussed problems facing tourism in the Arab world.

The Middle East's annual share of international tourism was $13 billion, from a global total of $474 billion, he said.

"Twenty-eight percent of international tourism is the Arab world's share," said Abdullah, adding that this percentage must be increased through planning and hard work.

Beirut 18-10-2004
Leila Hatoum
The Daily Star



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