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Lebanon Enjoying Tourism Boom Amid Political Calm

Lebanon has for decades been so unstable that most people there prefer not to plan for the future and even short-term government planning is rare. But npw the country is experiencing an unprecedented tourism boom based in part on its new-found stability and calm.

Several years of political instability in Lebanon have given way to a new-found stability, especially after parliamentary elections on June 7th, which gave the ruling pro-Western coalition a comfortable majority. As a result, observers say tourism is booming.

Veteran Lebanese economist, Marwan Iskandar, says that records are being broken this year and that the number of visitors to Lebanon has jumped dramatically:

"It's been going very well," Iskandar said. "We have had an increase of about 30% in the total number of visitors and, maybe since 1972, this is the first time we will have 2 million visitors this year….As you know, the Lebanese are ready to be optimistic, because they have gone through so many ups and downs, so they are optimistic, but with the beginning of Ramadan, quite a number of visiting Arabs will go back home, and it will be quieter."

Lebanon was known as the "Paris of the Middle East" before civil war broke out in 1975, but much of its tourist infrastructure was damaged or destroyed during the war. Rebuilding began when the war ended, in 1991, and since then, the country has been fighting to regain its pre-war prestige.

Despite the image of car-bombs, air-raids and kidnappings engraved in the minds of many Western tourists, Beirut topped the New York Times list of top vacation destinations in January.

Summer is the peak tourist season for Lebanon, and the country attracts many Arab and European visitors because of its beaches, as well as its refreshing mountain air at well-known mountain resort towns such as Bhamdoun, Aley and So'ofar.

Two well-known cultural events, the festivals of Beiteddin and Baalbeck, also attract foreign musicians, opera companies, and even rock musicians. Wafa Saab, a director of the Beiteddin Festival says performances, this summer, have been sold out:

"We're very pleased. I think that most of our performances, this year, have been sold out. We've had a lot of success, this year, thank goodness," Saab said. "It has its impact on the whole economic state…for example the service industry. It has its impact on everything."

Felipe Gotor, the director of sales and marketing for Beirut's most well-known luxury hotel, the Intercontinental Phoenicia says that it's been an unusually good year:

"It's the best year since the opening of the hotel, even better than our golden year in 2004. It's now breaking all records, this year, for us. However, we expect there should be a drastic drop when (the Islamic holy month of) Ramadan starts," Gotor said.

The Phoenicia Hotel faces Beirut's Saint George Bay and its views of the sea and of Mount Lebanon are extraordinary. The hotel also has a $16,000 a night penthouse suite, which wealthy Arab visitors are quite fond of.

Despite the tourism boom, however, not everyone is happy. Lina Ghazi of Beirut's Ghazi Travel says that it's been a "good year for people coming to Lebanon," but that her business is bad, because "few Lebanese are leaving to go on vacation abroad."