The return of Lebanon’s tourism industry was confirmed by its tourism ministry this week, which reported a record one million visitors for the month of July.
Of the 1,007,352 recorded tourist arrivals, the majority include some 325,000 Lebanese expatriates and roughly as many Syrians.
The figure also included a small but rapidly growing number of Europeans, with close to 79,000 arrivals in July from Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
The ministry has set its sights on hosting two million tourists by the end of 2009, a figure roughly equivalent to half the country’s population.
“It’s enormous – we have never seen this before,” ministry director Nada Sardouk told the news agency AFP.
Saudi Arabians and tourists from other Arab states are also on the up. Reservations for the holy month of Ramadan, which starts around August 22, are “very strong,” Sardouk added.
The country experienced its heyday in the Sixties and early Seventies when it was described as the Middle East’s answer to the Med – upmarket beach clubs, swanky nightclubs and glitzy promenades.
The start of the Lebanese Civil War in 1975 put all but an end to the country’s tourism. But now the country is slowly rebuilding itself after decades of turmoil, and with it a growing number of foreign tourists.
Much of the damage caused in 2006 between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas has been restored and was concentrated in south Beirut and southern Lebanon, areas that foreign tourists typically avoid.
Large areas of Beirut’s historic downtown, which was badly damaged during the 1975-1990 Civil War, have been repaired with many international chains moving in. Hilton and Four Seasons are set to open new hotels soon. The resort is also home to world-class hotels, including Le Royal Beirut, winner of “Lebanon’s Leading Hotel” and “Lebanon’s Leading Resort” at the 2009 World Travel Awards.
However the nation still remains marred by sporadic outbreaks of trouble. Today three people, including a child, were wounded when a bomb exploded in northern Lebanon, the port city of Tripoli.
In recent years Tripoli has been hit by deadly sectarian violence between the city’s Sunni and Alawite communities and by sporadic bombings, mainly targeting the Lebanese army.