Lebanon tourism up 43% in 2009


BEIRUT — More than 1.5 million tourists visited Lebanon in the first 10 months of 2009, or 43 percent more than the same year-earlier period, the tourism ministry said on Saturday.

“This number marks a 42.7 percent increase for the same period from 2008 and an 84 percent increase from 2007,” a ministry statement said.

A record one million tourists landed in the tiny Mediterranean country in July alone, the ministry said.

The ministry has said Lebanon hopes to have hosted two million tourists by the end of 2009, a figure roughly equivalent to half the country’s population.

Most visitors are Lebanese expatriates and tourists from the oil-rich Gulf, but the tiny Mediterranean country has also gained popularity as a holiday destination among Europeans.

Tourism in Lebanon had taken a beating in recent years after a string of assassinations that began with a Beirut bombing that killed former premier Rafiq Hariri in February 2005.

In 2006, Israel and Lebanon’s Shiite militia Hezbollah fought a devastating summer war and the following year the army battled with Al-Qaeda-inspired Islamists in a Palestinian refugee camp.

However, tourism made a dramatic recovery in 2008 with the arrival of 1.3 million visitors to the country once dubbed the “Switzerland of the Middle East.”