July brings more than one million tourists to Lebanon


BEIRUT — More than one million tourists visited Lebanon in the month of July, a record number for the tiny Mediterranean country, the tourism ministry said on Tuesday.

“It’s enormous — we have never seen this before,” ministry director Nada Sardouk told AFP.

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By the end of the month 1,007,352 tourist arrivals had been recorded, she said, including more than 325,000 Lebanese expatriates and just as many Syrians.

Saudi Arabians and tourists from other Arab states have also visited in droves, and reservations for the holy month of Ramadan, which starts around August 22, are “very strong,” Sardouk added.

Many Europeans are also visiting this summer, with close to 79,000 arrivals in July from Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, she 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.

Tourism in Lebanon had taken a beating in recent years after a string of political assassinations following the Beirut bombing which killed former prime minister 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 in the country once dubbed the “Switzerland of the Middle East.”