For a long time, tourism has been recognized as one of the most important social phenomena in our societies. It is a practice that is motivated by a natural urge to undertake new adventures and experiences for educational or entertainment purposes. Individuals are motivated into tourism by the social, business, or religious interests. Modern education has been fostering individuals’ desires to experience the life of others in different locations of the world. As societies overcome traditional communication barriers, individuals’ thirst for knowledge and experience is becoming stronger. Success in communication is attributable, in part, to advancement in technology (Central Bank of Libya, 2009). Among the notable advancements include the establishment of tourism and transport facilities in and around major tourist attraction sites. People are increasingly venturing into foreign lands as tourist as they take advantage of these developments.
Tourism is an important as an instrument for development and economic growth. It facilitates employment for the youth while, at the same time, providing foreign exchange to a country. Tourism has facilitated the opening and economic development of a number of remote locations in the world, where inhabitants used to live in abject poverty. A substantial number of these locations are in Africa, for instance, the Swahili Coast, Timbuktu, the pyramids of Giza, and the Mediterranean region. Tourism has been recognized as the biggest service industry in the world which, if tapped, can raise a nation’s GDP remarkably. As such, tourism has been playing a vital role in the achievement of Millennium Development Goals of several developing countries where objectives have been rightly set (Al-Balushi, 2008). Tourism has enabled nations to achieve other equity objectives, and this makes the industry appealing to a substantial number of jurisdictions that are home to major tourist attraction sites and cultures.
The Scale of Global Tourism: 2004-2010
Statistics available at the World Tourism Organization, WTO, indicates that as of 2005, the world’s major tourist destinations were receiving over 800 million arrivals on an annual basis. The industry traded over US $ 682 billion, with a substantial amount going to the developing countries (ENESCO, 2009). By 2006, the industry was generating over 234 million jobs, both directly and indirectly. This accounted for over 8.8 % of the total global employment. Additionally, the industry contributed up to 10.5% into the world’s GDP (El-Sherif et al, 2007). According to these estimates, the World Tourism Organization expected tourist figures to rise at a rate of over 4.8% annually between 2006 and 2017.
Scale of Libyan Tourism: 2004-2010
Libya is a country that is endowed with enormous tourism resources and potentials. It has unique and high quality assets of archaeological heritage, spectacular beaches, the desert, and marvelous mountains. However, development of tourism in Libya has not achieved significant gains, a situation that holds the country backwards. The development has been hindered by a couple of factors, both political-economic and cultural. Among the notable factors include the status of Libya as par the perceptions of the international community. Libya has been in isolation for a couple of years (Foster & Partners, 2007). The isolation kept international visitors away from the country’s beautiful beaches and the extra-ordinary ruins of the ancient Roman and Greek establishments.
Despite the interest of the government of al-Qaddafi to promote tourism, the international community shunned the country, a scenario that kept the industry grounded. Libyan society and its government have not been attaching a lot of interest in tourism. This is because of the fact that the nation is endowed with a substantial amount of oil and gas wealth. Therefore, even after the lifting of sanctions in 1999, the government was not under pressure to develop tourism. Nevertheless, there was a remarkable increase in the number of visitor into the country, a situation which was facilitated by multiple air links to a number of destinations in Africa (Library of Congress, 2005), Middle East, and Europe.
al-Qaddafi attached a lot of interest on the manner in which Libya was viewed from an international perspective. As such, there were a lot of political activities in Libya, most of which incorporated political and traditional leaders in Africa, Middle East, and Europe. Most of these activities were concentrated in the cities of Sirt and Tripoli. In effect, Sirt became known as a major tourism destination, although most of the activities were political. As a Muslim nation, and with the founding of al-Qaeda among other terrorist organizations, most individuals from the western nations shunned Libya, even after the lifting of economic and travel sanctions (Pritchard et al, 2010). Most people in the west did not trust elements in the Qaddafi regime, especially his close relatives, especially Mohammed El Senussi and the Libyan leader’s sons.
Another factor that kept visitors at bay was political instability. In Libya, there has been a lot of dissenting voices. This is despite the leader’s effort to portray the nation as united under his control. Qaddafi suppressed dissent, and this fact was evident to those that lived in the west as well as other locations in the world. Governments and the citizenry of the west knew that the Libyan situation could explode at the slightest provocation, and despite being a Mediterranean nation that is so close to tour loving Europeans, it did not become a tourism destination of choice (Ritchie & Crouch, 2003). Most of the visitors that Libya received were touring the country purely on business or political agendas.
Prospective growth of tourism Under Qaddafi
The regime of al-Qaddafi maintained relative peace and stability in a region that is known for instability. Under al-Qaddafi’s 42 year rule, Libya did not experience instability to the scale of that experienced by the neighboring states as well as other African and Middle Eastern nations. The relative peace and stability enabled the citizens to uplift their social standards, despite the sanctions. Schooling and medical services in Libya were satisfactory, and as such, the nation’s inhabitants have attained a high level of literacy rate. Libyan economic prospects are blight. The nation is still endowed with a substantial amount of oil and gas wealth which (Secretariat of health, 2010), if well managed, can push the country’s economic growth to over 10 percent per annum, according to some statistics.
Although the tourism industry has not been as attractive as the oil industry, the country has been recording a remarkable improvement in the last five years. As pointed out earlier, many people knew Libya as a political heavy weight. The country’s tourism industry has never been advertized to a level that would match the country’s political standing. For this reason, a substantial number of leisure tourists have been visiting Libya with an intention of exploring structures like the leader’s tents and monuments. Nonetheless, tourism in Libya recorded a 65 percent growth between 1999 and 2010. In the same period, foreign exchange earnings as a result of tourism increased by over 89 percent. Tourism in Libya, just before the civil war, contributed to over 3 percent to the nation’s GDP (Secretariat of planning, 2009). Libya has been constructing hotels and resorts all over the country. In Libya, unlike many other countries, the hotel industry employed a large proportion of foreign workers, a scenario that brought expertise into the industry. Had there been stability, the industry could have gained immensely from the inputs of the foreign practitioners.
The Impact of the Libyan Crises on Tourism
The 2011 Libyan crisis brought the nation into a near standstill. The crisis was preceded by the government’s crackdown of protesters in cities around Libya, and especially in the cities of Misrata and Benghazi. The crackdown lead to clashes between government security agents and the citizens who had taken up arms as the rebellion escalated into an all out war. Government institutions collapsed with the founding of an interim governing body in the city of Benghazi. The collapse devastated local and international tourism, and the industry was declared shut as the United Nations began to enforce the no-fly zone it had established sometimes earlier (Secretariat of Tourism, 2008). Fearing total economic collapse, the regime in Tripoli declared a cease fire, but the continued rebellion from the eastern part of the country made its enforcing difficult.
Libyans have always been hospitable, and despite their isolation from the world, the general public has never been radicalized against the west. The fall of Benghazi opened the city to the world. Individuals and organizations from all over the world began establishing contacts with the city, and indeed, many people were amazed by the hospitality accorded to them by the Libyans. Additionally, it is only then that people began to see Libya as a potential tourist destination. Soon after the leaders of Benghazi succeeded in bringing order to the city, a substantial number of journalists began to arrive (Secretary of industry, 2010). The manner in which the city handled these new arrivals at a time of such a deep crises inspired tourism stakeholders all over the world. The world began to realize that the problem emanated from corruption and mismanagement of their wealth and resources. Libyans had lost taste of al-Qaddafi rhetoric. They disliked his unabated purchases of heavy artillery, some of which were meant to support independence movements and militant groups in various locations around the world. Libyans longed for tolerance and embrace towards the international community and aspirations of the majority of humanity.
Human Resource in Libya
Qaddafi was brainy but he failed to tackle various issues of contention. For instance, Libyans wanted more democratic space which al-Qaddafi refused to provide. Nevertheless, he facilitated a high GDP per capital and literacy rate as well as satisfactory medical services. Al-Qaddafi achieved this because Libya, as a country, has a small population. When it comes to corruption, the country’s perception index stood at 2.2 in 2010, a situation that ranked the nation at position 148. This was worse than Egypt’s position 98 and Tunisia’s 59. However, Libyan human Development index was the highest as of 2010. The country had welfare organizations that facilitated access to free healthcare, financial aid for housing, and free education. The government had contracted the “Great Manmade River” as a way of facilitating access to fresh water for most regions of the nation (Ham, 2007).
Libya, therefore, as a country is endowed with the necessary resources to make it a flourishing tourist destination. Although tourism, like many other sectors, is an industry that is still in its early stages of development, the country has a variety of tourism boosters that can make it overtake several traditional destinations. Among the boosters include Roman and Greek ruins as well as desert landscapes. Additionally, the government has constructed over 13,000 hotel apartments, a figure that the new regime plans to increase to over 50,000. As such, the country is positioning itself as a destination for organized tours as well as transit visas, most of which are obtainable in the cities of Tunis and Cairo.
Attractions in Libya
In Libya, cultural tourism is presenting itself as the biggest attraction for the visitors. This is especially after the international community has witnessed the hospitable culture of the Libyans. Libyans have a unique culture, and, although to his advantage, al-Qaddafi perfected its retention. Libyan literature is rooted in antiquity. Furthermore, the contemporary writing in Libya is influenced by a variety of factors (John, 2008). One of the factors is the oral poetry tradition, much of which have been adopted to express the suffering of the people in the hands of Italians. Many of the contemporary writers have drawn their inspiration from the nationalistic, socialistic, and progressive views of the 1960s.
Literature, art, and culture of the Libyans appear exotic even to the citizens. This is especially so because of the interference by the government of al-Qaddafi. When Qaddafi came to power in 1969, his government required all writers to write in support of the regime. This action killed literature as the writers and actors could not conduct their activities with a free mind. Things began to change when the regime loosened the censorship laws in early 1990s (Palls, 2009). In the months following the revolution, there has been a complete revival of the Libyan original culture and literature. This is an area that the tourism industry and the new government can tap to facilitate effective economic growth and modernization of the country.
Other cultural attractions include cuisine which has been influenced by the Mediterranean, Italian, and African cultural practices. Libyan dishes are popular, especially the Sharba Libiya, which is commonly referred to as the Libyan soup. Another popular food item is the Bazin which is made by a mixture of barley flour and plain flour. Another unique cultural habit is beach picnicking, which the Libyan families have on Friday afternoons. In fact, indigenous Libyans have a culture of eating at home, leaving cafes and restaurants for the foreigners. In essence, with proper management and investment (Qathafi, 2009), the cultural tourism can thrive in Libya to a larger extent than in most other nations that have established destinations.
Among the greatest tourist attractions in Libya includes the archeological sites. Sites in Libya are not popular with the tourists. This is the case with other oil rich nations of North Africa and Middle East. This is because these nations have not been marketing their tourism to the same level that the European nations do (Naama, 2007). Nevertheless, the nation is renowned for its roman and Greek sites.
Libya is home to the ruins of an ancient Roman city of Sabratha. The city is situated about 50 miles west of the nation’s capital, Tripoli. Ancient Sabratha was established by the Phoenicians as a trading post in the year 500BC. It later fell under the control of the Numidians before its re-Romanization and rebuilding between the 2nd and 4th centuries AD (Ghanem, 2008). The city suffered damages that resulted from a massive earthquake in the 4th century. As such, the city has a long history, most of which has been passed through the word of mouth. Sabratha was home to a couple of Byzantine governors and emperors. This city and other ancient Roman cities were trading, cultural, educational, and trading centers. Individuals may be attracted by the ruins mosaic floors, churches, Hadrianic baths, and the Leptis Magna Museum (El-Kikhia, 1997). In addition to the city of Sabratha, there are several other ancient cities all around Libya that tourists can visit in their tour of Libya.
In addition to being host to a couple of Roman ruins, Libya does have a variety of Greek sites. One of these sites is the ruins of Cyrene. Cyrene, despite being remarkably influenced by the Romans, was originally a Greek city. About 15 kilometers from Cyrene are the ruins of Marsa Sousa. Marsa Sousa was a principle city in ancient Libya. The city was established as a commercial center that later fell under the reigns of local kings (Martinez, 2007). In fact, Cyrene had become autonomous to a level of becoming a republic at around 460 BC. This city has a variety of architectural ruins that can be marketed in an endeavor to promote tourism in Libya.
The City of Tripoli
The city of Tripoli has been a significant tourist attraction and destination for centuries now. However, as with other sites, the city of Tripoli has been inadequately marketed (Din, 1989). The world is yet to discover its magnificent mosques as well as the remnants of the Turkish and Italian influences on Libya. Tripoli has a lot of magnificent sites, such as the Red Castle that overlooks the sea. The city of Tripoli has a 500m motorway that has been reclaimed from the sea (Haven-Tang et al, 2007). This and other spectacular features in Tripoli have not been adequately tapped.
Ninety percent of the country is desert. Despite its devastating effects, the Libyan Desert is composed of a number of landmarks. These landmarks present a lot of resources that can be utilized for tourism purposes. The landmarks include urban constructions, historical arts, agricultural scenes, desert lakes, and oases. Such a diversification of resources presents a lot of opportunities to the Libyan nation. The resources can facilitate entertainment, scientific, as well as cultural practices (US Department of State, 2008). The Libyan Desert is an effective place for satisfying an adventurer’s desire. The place is a good place for amateur sportsmen who endeavor for walks around the desert. Moreover, the desert has a distinguishing beauty that has not been harnessed to the maximum. The desert is calm and isolated, and it is a representation of simplicity of life, a place that presents an adventurer with an unlimited number of photographic opportunities.
In every desert, among the most important attractions for the tourists are the oases. The Libyan Desert is distinguished by the beauty that these oases present to tourism. They represent the richness in cultural practices of the Libyan people besides introducing uniqueness to the desert landscape. Among these oases include those of Ghat, Ghadames, Wadi Elhayat, Wadi Eshati, Kufra, and Jufra. Other desert feature of interest includes the desert hills and mountains in the southern part of the country (World Tourism, 1998), features that present a tourist with a fascinating view. In essence, should the Libyan Desert be marketed, the country would become among the destination of choice in the global tourism industry.
Tourism in Libya was hampered by the idiosyncratic ideology that had been perpetuated by al-Qaddafi. Qaddafi had defined a unique political context that made growth in tourism difficult to achieve. The government had, on many occasions, proclaimed the need for economic diversification, but little was done in these regard. Since the regime of Qaddafi is over, the new government has an opportunity to exploit the resources available in an endeavor to boost the tourism industry (CIA, 2009). Libya can achieve this as the infrastructure is satisfactory. This is because the country is endowed with sufficient roads, hotels, resorts, and telecommunication infrastructure. The government needs to raise the awareness of the potential that the country has, correct the misconceptions about the country, and ease the complexities experienced during the acquisition of visas and passports. These steps are possible as Libya is a rich country, a fact that can give the country a competitive edge in marketing and provision of services.
To achieve the strategic goals and objectives regarding tourism, the government needs to invest in various promotional and marketing activities with an aim of raising the awareness. This would help correct the misconception that most Europeans have about Libya being an unsafe destination (World Travel & Tourism Council, 2011). The government would achieve this through liberalization of the industry so that the international investors can engage in their activities knowing that the country welcomes both tourists and businesspeople. Such goals are achievable as it has been witnessed with Dubai, another important destination in the Arabian Peninsula.