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HOPEFUL: Libya tour operators eye post-war boom for neglected industry
Some say tourism was languishing before the revolt because of apathy, incompetence, complex visa requirements, draconian police oversight and mercurial regulations under Gaddafi's government. Will the future be any better?
October 15, 2011 10:00 by Reuters
Sabri Ellotai, manager of Sabri Tours and Travel, described bringing a group of Germans in 2009 only to have them turned away at the airport because they did not have an Arabic translation for their passports — a requirement he had never heard of before.
“I heard about it (the law) at the airport,” Ellotai said, shaking his head.
He and others said they hoped the country’s new rulers — currently represented by the interim National Transitional Council (NTC) — would be able to do more with the industry when the war is over.
NTC forces are still fighting to take over Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte and a few other bastions of Gaddafi loyalists, which has impeded efforts to set up effective government nationwide and restart oil production.
WEEDS AND RUINS
Libya’s lucrative oil and gas industry made tourism less of a priority than in Egyptand Tunisia, where it was a major contributor of jobs and foreign revenues before the uprisings in those countries.
Libyan central bank official Ali Shnebesh estimated tourism could account for between 3 and 4 percent of the economy within five to ten years, depending on how much effort the country’s new government puts into it.
“It would decrease unemployment, since we have a lot of areas that are good for tourism,” he said. “It would put thousands of our people to work in these places in many sectors — telecommunications, transportation, hotels — everywhere.”
It is difficult to tell how much tourism contributed to Libya’s economy before the revolt because it was not tracked as a separate industry in central bank records, but Shnebesh estimated it was below half a percent of gross domestic product.
That compares to Egypt, for instance, where officials said it accounted for over 11 percent before the revolt.
There is plenty of evidence of the lax oversight at the ancient Greek colony ofCyrene, which was featured in the chronicler Herodotus’s “The Histories” and is now a UNESCO world heritage site, in the eastern Jebel al-Akhdar region.