Costa del Libya?

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iol travel nvo 12  Libya REUTERS People walk at the ancient Greek and Roman ruined city of Cyrene in modern-day Shahaat, 10km east of Al-Bayda city.

Tripoli - The violence that has engulfed the country in the last two years means that, at the time of writing, Libya is unlikely to feature on many people’s travel wish-lists.

But the troubled North African country has enormous potential as a tourist destination and is likely to rise as a holiday hot spot in the near future, according to key figures in the travel industry.

This week has seen the desert state – ravaged by civil war as recently as October last year – take a small step back into potential visitors’ sights by setting up a promotional stand at World Travel Market, an influential travel convention held every November at London’s ExCel Centre.

And a survey of industry professionals has suggested that Libya can look forward to a promising future.

The poll of more than 1 300 tourism officials revealed more than half – 56 percent – believed Libya had all the ingredients to become a major destination. Only 10 percent rejected the notion of Libya as a holiday option.

“Libya could become one of tourism’s most exciting destinations in the future,” says WTM director Simon Press.

“Many destinations, such as Vietnam and Croatia, have repositioned from conflict zones to tourism hot spots. There is no reason why, over time, Libya cannot do the same.”

The conflict that dragged Libya into news bulletins throughout much of 2011 was the most corrosive of the Arab Spring uprisings that sent bullets flying in the Middle East and North Africa.

The country’s long-term dictator, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, was overthrown and killed as fighting raged across the state. Twelve months on, Libya remains in a confused political state, with attempts to establish a new government hitting obstacles.

Last month, the prime minister-elect, Mustafa Abushagur, stepped down after failing to win parliamentary approval for a new cabinet for a second time.

An attack by armed groups on the US Consulate in the coastal city of Benghazi also saw Libya return to the news for the wrong reasons in September.

British Foreign Office guidelines advise Britons to steer clear of the country.

Travellers are also told that “violent clashes between armed groups are possible across the country, particularly at night, and even in places that have previously avoided conflict. These often include the use of heavy weapons”.

However, despite the hardline rule of the Gaddafi era, Libya had a reputation as a feasible – if niche – destination for intrepid tourists before the civil war.

Chief among its attractions is the ruined Roman city of Leptis Magna – a site that rivals many of the ancient sites in Italy for size and grandeur.

Pitched at Khoms, 128km east of the capital Tripoli, Leptis Magna was a significant outpost during the heydays of the Roman Empire. Its importance, recognised by Unesco World Heritage status, is visible in monuments such as the Arch of Septimus Severus – which recalls the second century emperor who was born in the city.

Other pockets of antiquity in Libya include Sabratha, a Phoenician-Roman port in the far west, near the Tunisian border, which also has Unesco recognition.

And there is more to the country than the past. Blessed with 1 760km of coastline, Libya can claim a greater share of Mediterranean beachfront than any other African country. – Daily Mail

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