‘Tripoli, the oriental but cosmopolitan capital is on the itinerary, as well as the Roman site of Leptis Magna. Learn about the history of Libya in the National Museum on the Green Square.’
On the first of the three-day tour, visitors can enjoy ‘a walking tour of the centre of Tripoli with our guide’. Day two brings a visit to Leptis Magna and Villa Sileen, an oppulent Byzantine dwelling – although the website notes the latter is ‘closed for restoration’.
On the last day, travellers are told they will be able to ‘go back to the old town on your own to do some shopping for souvenirs… or just wander around to get enticed by the confusing array of streets and alleyways in the medina.’
Luckily, the irony of taking a trip to Libya when fighting is still making headlines is not lost on the company’s employees.
‘The tour was very popular, actually. But not now, not yet,’ said Ibrahim Usta, the company’s ‘international customer assistant’.
He adds that while some potential visitors have been in touch, it is not yet possible to bring them to Libya.
‘We have many inquiries right now, but the problem is mainly security and visas,’ he said. ‘There’s no (visa) system in place and many embassies are not functioning.’
But on a positive note, he added: ‘We have everything. We have the desert, we have the sea, we have mountains. We just need the right people in the right place.’
Anti-Gaddafi fighters are still embroiled in battle in the tyrant’s former hometown of Sirte, the most significant of two major cities yet to be cleared of loyalists more than two months after Tripoli’s fall.
Advice on the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) website states: ‘Since 3 March, we have advised against all travel to Libya.
‘However in the light of the improving security situation on the ground the FCO has decided to change our Travel Advice to advise against all but essential travel to Zuwara, Az Zawiya, Tripoli, al Khums, Zlitan and Misrata, and the coastal towns from Ras Lanuf to the Egyptian Border, including Benghazi.’
It added: ‘We still advise against all travel to all other areas of Libya.’
Many of Libya’s tour operators and officials say the country has all the makings for a vibrant tourism business – warm weather, beaches, antiquities and proximity to Europe.
Tripoli’s atmospheric old city is slowly coming back to life as jewellery shops and cafes reopen up in
its winding streets, for instance, but many alleys are still littered with bullet casings.
In some areas, young men with Kalashnikov assault rifles sit smoking and chatting on steps or around street corners. They are said to be friendly to foreigners but their presence is not likely to encourage most holidaymakers.
The relative lack of English and French language speakers, as well as the ban on alcohol, may also make it hard for Libya to compete on a large scale with Egypt and Tunisia even after the war is finished, others say.
Some have predicted tourists will start arriving again within a year – Libya’s de facto leader Mustafa Abdul-Jalil said he expected to be able to declare total victory in the city in less than a week.
Once they have captured Sirte, rebel leaders claim they will be able to say Libya is officially liberated with control of all the country’s ports.
If developed, tourism could eventually help alleviate Libya’s high unemployment rate by creating work for tour guides, drivers, restaurant workers and hotel staff, as well as help it to diversify its economy, moving away from dependency on oil and gas.
Usta and others say tourism was languishing before the revolt because of apathy, incompetence, complex visa requirements, draconian police oversight and regulations under Gaddafi’s government.
Sabri Ellotai, manager of Sabri Tours and Travel, recalls bringing a group of Germans in 2009, only to have them turned away at the airport because they did not have an Arabic translation for their passports – a requirement he had never heard of before
He and others say they hope the country’s new rulers – currently represented by the interim National Transitional Council (NTC) – would be able to do more with the industry when the war is over.
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