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Middle East unrest could destroy region's tourism

20 July 2006

The tourism trade in Lebanon and Israel faces ruin if the renewed violence between the two countries, triggered by Hezbollah's kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers last week, continues.

With no sign of the bombings abating, experts now fear the destruction will prove too severe for the region's tourism to recover.

Latest reports show that up to 25,000 Britons and dual-nationality citizens trapped in the Beirut area are now preparing to leave, in what has been called the "biggest evacuation since Dunkirk".

The surge of violence and threat of all-out war in the region has shattered hopes that this would be a buoyant year
for Israeli and Lebanese tourism.

Since the 2000 Intifada, which destroyed Israel's tourism industry, visitor numbers had recovered and the country was expecting an all-time record of more than three million visitors this year.

But Hezbollah missile strikes have hit key tourist towns and will surely set the industry back. Bombs have landed on the main port of Haifa, the mystical town of Safed, the popular coastal resort of Nahariya and Upper Nazareth, as well as Tiberias, the Galilee region's tourism centre.

Tourism had also been one of the major economic drivers in Lebanon, accounting for 25% of GDP, with 1.5 million travellers predicted for 2006. The state could now lose about US$1.5b (£814m) in potential tourism revenue this year.

Gordon Campbell Gray, founder of Campbell Gray hotels, is currently building his first hotel, Le Gray, in Beirut and was planning another on the Lebanese coast.

"I'm heart-broken. It's simply dreadful," Gray said. "My immediate concern is the people, but this is a major setback for tourism too."

He added: "The Lebanese are such resilient and fabulous people. We hope it will eventually recover and, unless there's total destruction and the Solidere area is destroyed again, we intend to be there."

John Podaras, operations manager of hospitality consultancy TRI (Middle East), warned if the situation continued for more than a month, recovery could take up to five years.

He said: "The region is characterised by resilience but any recovery depends on the kind of damage inflicted and how long the conflict lasts."

Struan & Associates Tourism Crisis and Recovery Specialists director David Beirman agreed the future of tourism in Israel and Lebanon hinged on the duration of the conflict.

"If it becomes protracted, tourism will experience a deep crisis," he warned.

Another industry expert, who wished not to be named, said: "It's all going to fall to bits for the moment. If it continues indefinitely, air connections might be curtailed, which could hamper visitors returning to the region."

Tourism numbers

Lebanon 2004
Total visitors: 1.28 million
Biggest source markets

Saudi Arabia201,000
France94,000
Jordan93,000
Iran90,000
Kuwait80,000
USA79,000
Canada52,000
Egypt45,000

Israel 2004
Total visitors: 1.5 million
Biggest source markets

USA379,000
France 257,000
UK146,000
Germany76,000
Russian Federation49,000
Canada44,000
Jordan23,000

Source: World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO)

Lebanon's tourism expected to take a dive as violence errupts >>

By Emily Manson

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