Libya: The elephant in the room called ITB Berlin?

At the recently-held ITB Berlin, the world’s largest travel exhibition held yearly in Berlin, Germany, the secretary-general of the UN World Tourism Organization, Mr. Taleb Rifai, was asked what he thought about Libya exhibiting.

He said: “Libya has not been, to start with, a very active tourism destination even before these events. The general policies in Libya have not been very forthcoming, vis-à-vis, attracting tourists. They were concentrating more, if I understand right, as far as policies, on building infrastructure in tourism that has catered mainly to the business travelers, not so much to the leisure travelers.”

According to him, “It is important to note and say this because to try and assess any impact on this over Libya, one has to say, impact of what on what? Every country has been and continues to be free in deciding its own policies and objectives, vis-à-vis, promoting travelers and what kind of travelers.”

Added Mr. Rifai: “So in terms of Libya’s own impact on its own self, not much has been lost, because other than the business travelers, and it was a considerable flow, yet not one that was necessarily promoted by any clear public policies, but probably dictated by sheer business needs.”

He admitted that UNWTO cannot have a position on something like this. “This is up to any sovereign government, but UNWTO is concerned about the impact of the unfolding events of Libya on the Libyan people and on the surrounding countries as well,” he said. “And as part of the international community, part of the UN community, the UN position on what is happening in Libya is very clear. I don’t think I need to restate that what is happening in Libya is utterly and absolutely unacceptable.”

If asked whether the UNWTO has a way of monitoring what’s going on in Libya, Mr. Rifai said: “The UN in general has a way of monitoring. As part of the UN, we get regular reports, we get briefings, and we are doing that not by the day but by the hour. We are on top of things, but as a specialized agency of the UN, like other specialized agencies, we don’t have our particular… we don’t have a physical presence in Libya.”