|By Sean Coughlan
BBC News Online
Is Libya going to be the next big holiday
destination? Will travelers, hungry for new places to visit, be chatting
about Tripoli around the water-cooler next year?
country is leaving its political isolation - and tourists are beginning
to find their way to one of the least-visited places in the
This week Tony Blair has been to Libya, and tour company Exodus which
specialises in holidays off the beaten path says that there are signs of
tourists wanting to explore the country.
"I can really see it taking off as a tourist destination," says the
company's group manager, Andrew Apple yard.
Few western visitors have been to the north African country, but he says
that the political thaw is opening up Libya's untapped tourist
There are already six organized trips planned by his company for this
year - and he says a major attraction is the "unrivalled" quality of the
classical heritage in Libya.
A former archaeologist, Mr Appleyard, says that Libya has a
"magnificent" collection of mosaics, museums and Roman baths - which are
as good as anything anywhere else in the Mediterranean.
Hotels going up
And he says on his last trip to the country he could already see that hotels
were being built, in preparation for a growth in tourism.
But it will be starting almost from scratch.
The Association of British Travel Agents (Abta) says that until recently there
was almost no mainstream tourism from Britain to Libya.
"It was a no-go zone," says Abta spokesperson, Sean Tipton. "The Foreign Office
advised against going there. There were few flights and the big operators didn't
have the infrastructure there that they needed."
An alcohol-free country, where credit cards are not widely accepted, also failed
to pull the Mediterranean clubbers.
In 2002, there were only 2,500 travellers from Britain to Libya, he says, most
of whom were likely to be visiting for business rather than tourism.
But Mr Tipton says that modern travellers have a taste for finding places that
have not already been over-run by tourists - and he says that the first tourists
were heading for Iraq almost as soon as the war was over.
World heritage site
he says that the restrictions mean that it is "not exactly going to be a
There could also need to be changes to make the country more tourist-friendly.
A British holidaymaker who visited two years ago found that independent travel
within the country was very difficult for non-Arabic speakers. There was also a
lack of restaurants - and prices were high for the region.
But what will you see when you get there? The first efforts at attracting
western visitors have highlighted Libya's classical heritage - and it's not
widely known that the country has five United Nations "world heritage sites".
These include remains of the ancient city of Leptis Magna, which is claimed as
one of the finest Roman sites in the Mediterranean, with a forum, amphitheatre,
circus and temples.
There are also ancient Greek sites, such as the city of Cyrene.
And for travel-hungry holidaymakers, another big pull is that so far very few
people from Britain can say they were there before you.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2004/03/26 11:07:03 GMT
© BBC MMV