Lebanon Eyes Tourism Boost as Saudi 'Ends Unofficial Ban'

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf governments have lifted an unofficial ban on travel to Lebanon, boosting prospects for the summer tourism season, tourism minister told Agence France Presse on Thursday.

"There is an implicit normalization," Michel Pharaon said.

"I'm not putting the words in the mouths of any Saudi officials, but I can tell you that with our meetings, implicitly, yes, if there was a ban, today it is lifted," he said.

"As it was not an official ban, I would say that it's a non-official green light."

Since 2012, Gulf states whose citizens used to flock to Lebanon during the summer months have warned their nationals to avoid the country because of security concerns.

With a spate of kidnappings, and then increasing spillover from the war in neighboring Syria, tourists increasingly stayed away, devastating Lebanon's key tourism sector.

Pharaon said there were already signs of improvement, after a nosedive in visitors last year.

"When you look at the visitors to Lebanon, in 2010 it was 2.3 million, in 2013 we were at 1.3 million.

"But now I would say that they are coming back slowly, the planes are full, hotels are coming up to 60-70 percent, whereas at the same time last year they were at 30-35 percent," he said.

"I would say I'm optimistic, if I have to say what's in my heart. But in Lebanon, we always have to be cautious, so I'll say I'm cautiously optimistic for this season."

Source: Agence France Presse

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