The Sabratha Theatre, one of Libya’s Unesco Heritage sites and a great tourist attraction
By Yousef Kettir
For the first time in more than 40 years, Libya will be trying to exploit its full potential as a tourist destination. The visit the Libyan Minister for Tourism, Ikram Bash Imam made to Malta in the past few days, a trip described as both countries as positive and fruitful, is the first step towards attaining the results one is aiming for.
Well done to Ms Bash Imam for taking the bull by the horns, as we say, and starts turning words into deeds. She is the first member of a Libyan government since before the Gaddafi era to recognise the need for Libya to open its doors to the foreigners as a distinct tourist destination and work to make the sector a strong pillar of economy along with out main resource, oil.
As the Libyan government prepares to set the country on the road to economic growth and prosperity, investment in post-revolutionary Libya moves centre stage and it seems that Minister Ikram Bash Imam’s efforts for the Tourism sector is in line with the new leaders’ iintentions
The Libyan minister’s visit to Malta where she had talks with her counterpart in the sector in our neighbourly country, Mr Karmenu Vella, could not have gone better, and her visit could not have come sooner. The Maltese Minister has always been known for his limitless energy in the sector since way back in the early seventies. He was instrumental in putting in place the strong foundations for Malta’s tourism industry.
In the past few years when his party was in opposition, his skills, as an architect and as a leader were used by the Corinthia Group, which has been the first Maltese group to invest in Libya through our country’s foremost hotel, Bab Africa in Tripoli, and Palm City Residences.
Under Mr Vella’s his chairmanship, the Maltese company many strong strides forward and entered into very interesting ventures in Libya. He certainly knows what he is talking about. No wonder therefore that he pledged to support any private investors willing to enter Libya’s tourism market, and also urged Libyans to invest in the same Tourism industry in Malta.
The tourism industry in Malta has become one of the island’s most important economic sectors. It is well organised and is said to, not only generate at least a billion Euros every year from over a million visitors to the island but is so well organised that the Libyan Minister rightly decided to try and emulate Malta’s successful strategies in tourism.
Malta is a favoured tourist destination with its warm climate, numerous recreational areas, and architectural and historical monuments. Libya has all that and even more. It also has five UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It also has a 2,000 km shoreline that most of it could be developed.
Therefore Minister Ms Imam’s intention for the new Libya to use its full potential as a tourist attraction is not idle talk. Though is not larger than a Libyan city, and it has taken it years to become the popular destination it is now. Malta’s tourism sector is indeed a success story.
That is why the Libyan Minister said that the Libyan tourism industry, still in its infancy, wants to strengthen ties with Malta in this sector and also to work hand-in-hand with the Maltese authorities to exploit Libya’s full tourist potential.
She admitted the fact that after the Arab Spring, Libya is still forming its long-term strategies for the future, but on the other hand is determined to take advantage of all that the country has to offer by way of tourist attractions.
It will not be easy. Before Gaddafi took over the country in 1969, Libya used to be a popular tourist destination. But after more than four decades of the dictatorial regime, all it had gained in the sector was lost altogether as. It was completely ignored.
Now, with Ms Imam believing there is hope for a revival, we can start rebuilding. But it will not be easy. We need to start from scratch, and the Minister concedes there’s need for us to take advantage of what the Maltese tourism authorities, particularly their Tourism Studies Institute have to offer.
One of the most important aspects is to even train personnel already working in the tourism sector in Libya to improve or learn new skills. It could offer our
They could be trained in the hospitality sector, potential leadership, decision-making process, hotel management, ways how to deal with guests, learn the most basic ways how to communicate, get familiar with the languages, particularly English, which is the lingua franca, Italian, German and French, and by developing culinary skills.
Libya has a number of high-class hotels that can be used solely for tourism purposes not for the use of government employees. We need even build more, not only in Tripoli or Benghazi, but also in other cities like Misurata, and Derna, to mention just two of many, in order to diversify the destination of tourists and for such cities to also enjoy the fruit of the industry.
The government also has an even more important role to play, firstly by organising the sites, modernising their access, providing knowledgeable on site guides, maintain the attractions, resurface the roads, particularly those close to the various hotels and sites, and facilitate the transport sector giving tourist easy access to the country’s main cities.
The tourism industry is not just hotels and heritage sites. The country could also become an attractive destination for cruise liners; sports tourism is another niche, so too culture. While another great asset is the Sahara Desert.
We will have many teething problems to overcome therefore it was wise of Minister Ms Imam to agree with her Maltese counterpart on the need to strengthen the ties between the two countries in this sector. Both have been traditionally and geographically good neighbours and both can and should take advantage of these elements.
Both countries should also, expand on their potential and collaborate expansion in the industry.
It was interesting to hear the Maltese minister insisting that while tourism was crucial to both countries’ economies the two Mediterranean neighbours should not view themselves as competitors, but as possible partners.