Libya Wants Its Tourists Back

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Written by Dana Sanchez

Libya is keen to restart its fledgling tourism industry, dealt a death-blow during the country’s Arab Spring, the ouster of former dictator Moammar Gadhafi and the ensuing chaos, according to a report in Independent Online.

People no longer come to Libya as tourists, said Mohammed Bujila, head of antiquities at Sabratha, the Libyan coastal city whose Roman ruins once attracted 20,000 foreigners a year.

The ancient Roman city used to attract more than 20,000 foreign visitors a year before the 2011 war. Now the temples and mosaics overlooking the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean are usually deserted, the report says.

Tourism officials expect it will take two years for the tourists to return to Libya. Despite new shops and restaurants opening regularly in Tripoli and daily flights to Europe, the country remains awash with weapons and that is keeping foreign visitors away, the report says.

The country has appointed its first post-war tourism minister but with armed brigades often doing as they please, sometimes besieging state buildings or fighting in the streets, the government acknowledges that the industry is unlikely to take off until security problems are tackled, according to Independent Online.

Libya is home to 1,056 miles of coastline, ancient treasures including five Unesco World Heritage sites and desert views.

Libyan families are the main visitors to the country’s biggest attractions which include the Roman city of Leptis Magna with its preserved amphitheater, columns and cobbled streets.

Other Libyan tourism highlights include sleeping under the stars in the Sahara desert, visiting the old town at the desert oasis of Ghadames or troglodyte caves in the western mountains.

Landmarks from the uprising are also seen as tourist attractions, such as Gadhafi’s old compound in Tripoli and museums displaying weapons from the war in the cities of Misrata and Benghazi, the report says.

“People from around the world will want to see these places,” a Tripoli taxi driver said, according to the report. “This is history.”

“Tourism is a mark of stability in a nation,” said newly elected Tourism Minister Ikram Abdusalam Bash Imam. “We need a very high level of security for people to come.”

Libya saw 125,480 foreign visitors in 2006 and 32,038 in 2010, the report says.