Lebanon will lose about $2 billion in tourism revenues this year due to a month-long war but the tourism minister is hoping a 15,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force will help revitalise the industry.
A U.N. resolution that ended 34 days of fighting between Israel and Hizbollah last month called for beefing up UNIFIL, a 2,000-strong U.N. force in south Lebanon, with up to 13,000 extra peacekeepers from various countries.
Tourism Minister Joseph Sarkis is counting on parents, other relatives and friends of the troops to boost visitor numbers.
We are now preparing a sort of campaign in these countries, to show that Lebanon, the country where their children have come for a peaceful mission, is also a beautiful country, it has an image that is not only war and destruction, he told Reuters.
Sarkis, who said he expects around $10 million a month in revenues from UNIFIL soldiers' personal expenditure in southern Lebanon, was already receiving requests for license permits to open restaurants, clubs and coffee shops in the area.
When they have their leave, they go to enjoy a glass of beer or lunch or dinner, Sarkis said, adding that the figure did not include army expenditure on rent or fuel.
Sarkis had been expecting $4 billion in revenues from tourists' expenditure and investment in tourism projects but said we will probably lose around $2 billion because of ... war in Lebanon.
Sarkis said he had been expecting over 1.6 million tourists to visit Lebanon this year and on the eve of July 12, around 730,000 tourists had already come to the country.
But Hizbollah's capture of two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid on July 12 sparked a war in which Israeli air strikes caused $3.6 billion in damage to bricks and mortar. It came at the height of Lebanon's summer tourist season.
The tourists came and on the 12th of July, they received bombs on their heads and they were obliged to escape in a very humiliating way, he said.
Sarkis said he expected 300,000-350,000 tourists in the four months to December, providing stability continues and improves.
In 2005, tourism was hit by the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri and other high-profile political killings. With arrivals to Lebanon 24 percent higher in the first half of 2006 than even in 2004, Lebanese foresaw a major recovery but the war made it impossible.
I would say the main thing that has been damaged is confidence in the country. I say it's easier to rebuild a bridge than to rebuild confidence in a country, Sarkis said. Tourism needs stability, if there is no stability there is no tourism.
But seasonal festivities, including the Eid al-Fitr Muslim feast in late October, should help the recovery, he said.
Forty percent of tourists to Lebanon are Arabs and Sarkis said many hotels, travel agencies and car rentals are informing us they've started receiving bookings from now for the Eid period which shows it's a good thing.