02 July 2003

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Libya drafts Lm2.7 billion plan to develop tourism

By David Lindsay
Malta’s main economic pillar, tourism, could stand to be threatened by a tourism development master plan being drawn up by Libya.
Aiming to capitalise on the final lifting of sanctions against the oil-rich Maghreb country, Libya has drawn up an ambitious multi-billion dollar plan to attract some three million tourists a year to shake off the effects of years of international economic embargoes.
The scheme - prepared by experts from Libya, a number of Arab countries and Europe - aims to develop Libya’s poor tourist infrastructure over the next five years at an estimated cost of USD7 billion (approximately Lm2.7 billion). As part of the massive capital outlay, tourist villages and hotels will be built on Libya's pristine 1,000-kilometer Mediterranean coast.
Maltese companies could be in for a slice of the action as well, as Libya is reportedly looking to garner investment from neighbouring countries, with Libya already concluding a deal with Italy for the construction of a tourist village on the Mediterranean coast.
Saudi business tycoon Prince Al-Walid bin Talal has also joined the melee by reaching a deal with Libya to set up a USD20 million hotel company. The 44-year-old billionaire prince, a nephew of King Fahd, owns prestigious hotels across the globe, including holdings in the Swiss group Movenpick and the Four Seasons chain.
The project comes as Libyan authorities are wrangling with a decision over whether to adopt a policy of so-called ‘popular capitalism’ with a view to liberating the economy after three decades during which vital economic sectors were controlled by the government. The move also follows hot on the heels of a call in June by Libyan leader Muammar Ghaddafi for the wholesale privatisation of the vital oil and other sectors in light of the uncompetitivity of the heavy state-run economy.
Ghaddafi has also instituted a cabinet reshuffle aimed at giving tourism a new-found impetus, most notably was the creation- for the first time – of a Tourism Ministry headed by former prime minister Ammar Latif, whose first move was to inaugurate Libya's first tourism fair.
Libya is looking to capitalise on its many tourism assets including numerous well-preserved Roman and Greek ruins and pristine beaches. But the absence of nightlife in the Muslim country, where alcohol and discos are banned – a far cry from the Maltese tourist scenario - could discourage tourists.
Sanctions eased
International sanctions were imposed on Libya in the wake of the 1988 Lockerbie airline bombing, but they were eased after Tripoli handed over two suspects in the case to a Scottish court.
In late April Tripoli accepted civil responsibility for the attack and offered compensation to the victims in the hope of obtaining a full lifting of US and UN sanctions.
Since sanctions were eased, several international European airlines have resumed flights to Tripoli and travel agencies have mushroomed in the Libyan capital.
Last year some 570,000 tourists, including 200,000 Europeans, visited Libya, according to the tourism office. Most of the Europeans came from Italy, France and Germany.
Die-hard tourists also visited Libya when the sanctions were strictly enforced between 1992 and 1999, arriving overland from Tunisia or by boat from Malta.

Copyright © Newsworks Ltd. Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
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