Lebanon launches tourism blitz to counter violence concerns

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A village in Mount Lebanon, central Lebanon. Photo - Micheal Trezzi

Lebanon launched an international media campaign to attract tourists to one of the most favourite summer destinations in the Middle East. The move comes at a time when the Mediterranean nation is facing a decrease in tourism due to the rise in internal and external violence.

Lebanon’s Prime Minster Najib Mikati and Tourism Minister Fadi Abboud kicked off the campaign in a meeting with public and private sector representatives in Beirut on Wednesday. Gulf countries recently advised their citizens to avoid travelling to Lebanon in the wake of deadly clashes in capital Beirut and northern city of Tripoli. Many political analysts believe the conflict in neighbouring Syria has put the country at risk of a protracted civil war.

The country’s well-established tourism industry is struggling to live up to the summer season rush when tourists from around the Middle East spend their vacations in the mountainous regions. Tourist towns like Aley and Bhamdoun, usually populated with tourists from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, are almost empty for the first time in years.

Lebanon witnessed a 24% decline in the number of tourists in 2011. The situation is unlikely to change this year as sectarian tensions still run high in some regions.

Many hotels in Beirut and the mountains have seen massive cancellations of room reservations over the past few weeks with some hotels even warning that they may be compelled to lay off many of their staff if the situation does not change.

Lebanese Tourism Minister Fadi Abboud told a news conference that 700 TV commercials would be aired on Euro Sports channel for three months to promote Lebanon as a safe tourist destination.

He also added that CNN would also air a report in August titled “An Eye on Lebanon.”

“We also have between 600 to 700 commercials on Lebanon. Our goal is to change a particular image about Lebanon, but this task is not easy,” the minister insisted.

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati highlighted the importance of the massive media blitz and said he had received many calls from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia urging the government to spread the message across the Arab world.

“We all need to do this workshop, because this country concerns us all. This issue tourism involves not only the government but also the entire country,” Mikati stressed.

Lebanon would host a number of festivals and international music concerts in various historical locations this summer, he added.

Lebanon is banking on the massive expat population that lives in the Gulf, North Africa and US to revive its tourism fortunes and help it emerge from the shadows of looming civil war.

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