Tourism in Libya – What’s next?

In the spring of 2011, protests, demonstrations, marches, and disputes spread like wildfire through the Middle East. The spark was ignited by rallies in Tunisia and it soon spread throughout North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and on to the outer countries of the Middle East. Dissatisfaction with the governments and rulers of these countries led to the growing dissension. High unemployment, the widening gap between the rich and the poor, human rights, and political corruption all played a part in triggering the quest for change.

Among the many countries affected, Libya – with its massive oil market – gained substantial attention from the rest of the world. Unrest in Libya had been present for many years prior to the Arab Spring, but had been muffled and subdued by the government. However, with the support and encouragement of fellow Arab nations, the Libyans began their uprising on February 15, 2011. At first the protests were small and relatively harmless. Arrests were made and citizens were forcefully encouraged to voice their problems in an orderly manner. The Libyans were far from being appeased. As their frustration grew and intensified, the protests continued to escalate. With help from NATO, the rebel forces finally overthrew their oppressive leader, Muammar Gaddafi.

The civil war between Gaddafi-controlled forces and the rebels turned into a violent struggle for control. As the conflict prolonged, Libya’s once growing tourism and travel industry came to a quick halt. A no-fly zone was imposed over the country as outside powers began to be involved. The country’s infrastructure was significantly ravaged; airstrips were destroyed, the ports were targeted, and roads and buildings were wrecked. More than five consecutive years of growth came to a to a sudden end.

“Prior to the onset of violence in Libya, the government had finally developed a Tourism Master Plan for the short period 2009-2013, with some vision expressed about the much longer-term, through to 2025” (Euromonitor, 2013). The number of incoming trips to the country was estimated to be over 1 million by 2013. A need for the expansion of both adventure and domestic tourism was acknowledged and the prospective market generated a massive influx of foreign investment into the tourism and travel industry. In fact, Libya’s largest bulk of investment is in tourism accommodation. Luxury hotels were springing up in all of the major cities, and those numbers were expected to continue increasing. Elaborate ideas were being pitched and ambitious plans were being made the development of the country’s roads, airports, railroads, and ports – hopefully one day linking Libya to its surrounding states. All of these plans have been placed on hold indefinitely as the nation embarks on the journey of restoration.

Currently, the future of Libya is uncertain. The tour and travel market was affected greatly by the violence that engulfed the country. While “there is…a large untapped market to consider for the growth of travel and tourism in the future; one which could be looked at more closely by any new government in the future” (Euromonitor, 2013), “without a government strategy for the industry, growth is likely to be slow” (Jamieson, 2012). A considerable amount of reconstruction must occur before the government can again focus on the tourism industry.

That being said, many Libyans are hopeful. On the quest for a government for the people, they truly believe that this is the start of something good. “This is now our time,” declares Jalal Baayou from the Arab Company for Tourism and Development, which does much of the subcontracted tourism development work for the new government. He believes that with investment in infrastructure and improved security, Libya could become “a top destination to rival Egypt within the next 10 years” (Allen, 2011). The general attitude is hopeful. Tourism could potentially be Libya’s main source of GDP next to the oil market. While the industry has suffered from a major setback, the clean slate offers tour operators and hotels many reasons to remain optimistic.

Libya has much to offer. “Soaked in sun, the country’s position at the meeting point of the desert landscape of the Sahara and the Mediterranean makes it ideal for trekking and windsurfing” (Jamieson, 2012). It is home to five UNESCO heritage sites as well as mountain ranges, a vast portion of the Sahara desert, and national parks and nature reserves. Libyan tour companies are optimistic about the future. Tourist traffic is slowly but surely picking up as people are seeing just how much of the country is waiting to be explored.

References
Allen, Karen. “Libya’s Ruins: Will They Pull the Tourists?” BBC News. BBC, 23 Dec. 2011.
Web. 25 Feb. 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-16304439

“Travel and Tourism in Libya.” Travel and Tourism in Libya. N.p., June 2011. Web. 26
Feb. 2013. http://www.euromonitor.com/travel-and-tourism-in-libya/report

Jamieson, Alastair. “Could Sun-soaked Libya Be the Mediterranean’s next Tourism Hot
Spot?” NBC News. NBC News, 14 Mar. 2012. Web. 26 Feb. 2013. http://worldnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/03/14/10653000-could-sun-soaked-libya-be-the-mediterraneans-next-tourism-hot-spot?lite

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