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Opinion: Tourism is the Most Common form of Foreign Direct Investment!

Byline: The Tripoli Post

Summary: In February I wrote in the Tripoli Post that official Tunisian statistics reported that as many as 1.5 million Libyans visited Tunisia in 2007. Recent Tunisian reports also revealed that in 2007 six million tourists visited Tunisia spending US$ 2.5bn. That works out at about an average of US$ 416.00 spent per visiting tourist. I also wrote that according to official statistics, Libya has received over the last 3 years on average a maximum of 200,000 tourists per year.

In February I wrote in the Tripoli Post that official Tunisian statistics reported that as many as 1.5 million Libyans visited Tunisia in 2007. Recent Tunisian reports also revealed that in 2007 six million tourists visited Tunisia spending US$ 2.5bn. That works out at about an average of US$ 416.00 spent per visiting tourist. I also wrote that according to official statistics, Libya has received over the last 3 years on average a maximum of 200,000 tourists per year.

Equally, if we can assume for discussion purposes that the 1.5 million Libyans that visited Tunisia in 2007 also spent the average of US$ 416.00 per head, then the total spent by Libyan tourists to Tunisia in 2007 was about US$ 624 million.

These stats throw up a few interesting points worth discussing. Firstly, that the domestic Libyan tourism industry is theoretically losing out on US$ 624 million per year.

This loss is not only a direct loss to the tourism industry alone, but also a loss to the Libyan economy as a whole. That is, the multiplier effect of this money Au the effect it has on the whole economy as it circulates round and round Au would be much greater than that, creating much employment, income and general economic growth.

I am aware, of course, that no matter how advanced a country's tourism sector is, its population will always wish to travel and see foreign and new lands and cultures. Equally just as 1.5 million Libyans visited Tunisia in 2007, not as many, but quite a few Tunisians visited Libya and spent quite a bit of money here too. But the balance of trade surplus is clearly in favour of Tunisia in this sector.

Bi-lateral travel and trade is in my view not only beneficial and desirable but also inevitable and unavoidable in the ever inter-dependant world. Libya enjoys many balance of trade surpluses in its favour with other trading partners Au caused purely by oil exports.

Libya, like all nations of the world does not and cannot enjoy a surplus of trade in all sectors.

No, the point of my discussion is not that Libya should completely reverse this tourism trade deficit Au although reducing it with more Tunisians visiting Libya would be great - but that it should look at these statistics and learn a few things from them.

Libya needs to analyse the statistics of our North African and Mediterranean neighbours Tunisia, Egypt, Malta etc and see what lessons we can extract from them.

Libya needs to professionally analyse the various market sectors and decide which ones it wants to concentrate on. We need to see where we can realistically be competitive and where we can realistically create a competitive advantage. It is no use Au in my personal opinion Au trying to beat Tunisia's 6 million or Egypt's 10 million incoming tourists.

Firstly, I do not think that this is achievable within a decade. Secondly, and more importantly, I wonder if 6 to 10 million tourist arrivals a year in Libya is desirable.

Can Libya and Libyans handle and cope with such numbers? Will we have the know-how, infrastructure etc to process them, and what would be the long-term adverse effect of such high volumes on the ancient ruins and sites and the Libyan environment. Equally, there are also the cultural and sociological consequences to be considered.

Rather than trying to attract more volumes of tourists, Libya needs to try and get a balance between the volume of tourists and the amount of spending per head. It needs to concentrate on getting high or higher spending tourists Au less tourists than Tunisia's 6 million but spending much more than an average of US$ 416.00 per head. Put crudely, the trick is to try to attract half the number of tourists spending double the amount.

But of course that is where the trick lies. All nations hope and want to attract more money from fewer tourists. Libya has to really want it. It has the raw materials, it has the capital. But it needs the will power and policies to improve its infrastructural and human resource capabilities.

Put bluntly, strategically and politically, Libya has to decide in the final analysis if it is worth all the effort and direct and indirect costs Au financial and cultural Au of trying to lure millions of foreign tourists just so that they can spend an average of US$416.00 per head!

In May this year the Libyan Tourism Board organized a very successful and entertaining tourism fair in Tripoli. I was very pleased looking at the displays and current and future projects. But from discussions there with exhibitors it became clear that the authorities need to push tourism further up the policy agenda and give it the kind of budget that is being spent elsewhere.

Many foreign tourists want to see our vast desert dunes, our desert lakes, our rock carvings, our Punic, Greek and Roman archeology, our extinct volcano, and our un-crowded pristine azure-blue beaches. But we have to invest in policies, infrastructure and human resources in order to provide high quality services to charge high quality prices - for top-end tourists.

A[umlaut] 2008 - The Tripoli Post

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Publication:The Tripoli Post (Tripoli, Libya)
Date:Jul 6, 2008
Words:973
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