UNWTO stands behind Lebanon

UNWTO is confident that Lebanon will be able to reconstruct its tourism sector and continue being an attractive international travel destination.

UNWTO and its members stand behind Lebanon, said UNWTO Secretary-General, Francesco Frangialli. Our sector is only a part of the losses suffered in Lebanon, but tourism is of great importance for the economic recovery and development of the whole country, he added.

The Organization held a joint press conference with the Ministers of Tourism for Lebanon and Jordan, as a first example of UNWTO’s intensive support and vote of confidence in Lebanon’s very positive tourism future.

Minister of Tourism of Lebanon Joseph Sarkis said there are already signs that regional business is picking up and we are very confident in the medium term outlook.

Reconstructing Lebanon

Lebanon is known as a unique tourism destination. The Special Program for the Reconstruction of Lebanon’s Tourism Economy, being developed by UNWTO, will focus on the assessment and economic impact analysis of the recent conflict, restoring market confidence, and formulating a strategic plan for sustainable redevelopment of tourism.

According to UNWTO figures, the recovery in Lebanon during the first quarter of 2006 (+49% in tourist arrivals over an 11% decline in 2005) was totally halted from July on and international tourist arrivals from July to September declined by over 58%. Total arrivals in the first nine months of the year are down by nearly 9%. Having expected 1.6 million tourists in 2006, the new estimations indicate that the year will end down on 2005 figures.

Conflicts and tensions have slowed down growth before but do not produce significant decreases in overall volumes of flows. We have repeatedly seen months with substantial drops in arrivals that were followed by flows bouncing back quickly and strongly once stability re-emerged, Francesco Frangialli noted.

Significantly no hotel facilities were damage and the rebuilding of general infrastructure is now underway. The challenge now, besides reconstruction, is stability in the destination and rebuilding confidence in source markets, particular those of Europe.

Resilience and recovery

The realistic focus for a clear tourism recovery is the 2007 summer season but even now we are seeing traditional Lebanese fortitude and resilience, Mr Frangialli said.

The region in general and Lebanon in particular, has a proud history of resilience to external shocks and an enormous capacity for recovery from crisis situations as proven by its excellent performance in recent years.

The Middle East has been the fastest growing region in the world in terms of international tourism in recent years. International tourist arrivals grew at an average rate of 10% annually over the last fifteen years, more than double the world average of 4%.

From a base of 9.6 million in 1990, arrivals to the Middle East peaked at 39 million in 2005 (4.8% of the world total). International tourism receipts grew from US$ 5 billion in 1990 to nearly US$ 28 billion in 2005, equivalent to over 3% of the region’s GDP.

Tourism has thus become a vital sector in the socio-economic structure of the Middle East, contributing to the diversification of oil-based economies and to the creation of employment.