Growth in an Unlikely Place: Tourism in Libya
After more than four decades of repressive rule under Muammar Gaddafi, opposition fighters in Libya have been successful in overthrowing the authoritarian dictator and setting up a more open, democratic society. Though still in its infancy, the new system has shown potential, drawing upon Libya’s valuable natural resources and fairly educated population. Unfortunately, the future is not all roses. The uprising has largely stagnated the Libyan economy, causing a slowdown in industries across the board and a general sense of uncertainty. Libya plans to address this problem, however, in a way that you may not expect.
When one thinks of vacation spots, sandy beaches and warm sunshine probably come to mind— not the dry, wildly varying climate of Libya. A full-fledged promotion of tourism, however, is exactly what the country plans to put into motion. Officials hope that an influx of tourists can help the country take a big step towards economic recovery.
Libya recently established the Libyan Society for Tourism Activation, an organization that plans to attract visitors by highlighting the country’s unique culture and advertising Libya’s historic Greek and Roman ruins. The society has recently staged a parade and flame lighting ceremony to emphasize Libya’s intriguing culture and heritage. Extensive efforts to preserve the famous ruins have also helped maintain a potentially strong tourist attraction.
This is not the first time that the country has made an effort to promote tourism. In the early 2000s, the Gaddafi regime introduced legislation that called for increased focus on the tourism sector of the Libyan economy. Their initiatives morphed into a nationally funded, erratic approach that had little to no foreign investment and led to limited growth.
This time around, Libya plans to place a greater stress on the foreign investment, which was lacking under the previous government. With a more open, transparent system, investors should theoretically be less uneasy about engaging with the Libyan economy. The Libyan Society for Tourism Activation is “open to all that would develop and promote the tourism industry,” and so far seems to be wooing the private sector to help facilitate this promotion. Indeed, both the Intercontinental Hotel Group and the Rotana Hotel Management Corporation have expressed interest in building units in Libya, and numerous foreign airlines have committed to helping restore and diversify the Libyan airline industry.
Libya can also take note of Costa Rica, a country known for its tourism that has deftly handled foreign investment. Costa Rica has established the Costa Rica Investment Promotion Agency (CINDE), an organization that, among other duties, matches potential investors with attractive opportunities in the tourism industry. There are also numerous examples of investment success stories in Costa Rica even in times of economic uncertainty, a situation that Libya obviously faces now. Perhaps Libya could establish a similar agency that can aid in both finding appealing investment opportunities and matching them with potential suitors. By modeling some aspects of its tourism industry after Costa Rica’s, Libya could potentially have a little bit of its own success.
Although Libya seems to be on the right track with regards to economic growth through tourism, it does still face some hurdles. The number of flights coming into the country is low because of runways damaged from the conflict, and general uncertainty about safety remains high. However, if Libya continues to
encourage investments and takes a lesson or two from Costa Rica, the tourism industry holds the potential for serious growth. With its rich history, unique climate, and wealth of archeological sites, Libya could serve as an attractive alternative to the typical beach vacation.