Dubai: Lebanon has urged the GCC countries to lift the travel advisory on their citizens against travelling to the Mediterranean country, which has badly affected its tourism industry.

The GCC countries last June issued a travel advisory urging citizens to avoid travel to Lebanon, primarily because of the ongoing fighting in Syria – something that has not changed.

“Lebanese tourism industry is suffering due to this travel advisory as we have seen a decline in hotel guests last year,” Fadi Abboud, Lebanese Minister of Tourism, told Gulf News.

He said, Beirut is a safe city with no major security incidents in recent months. “I urge the GCC countries to lift the travel ban as there is absolutely no reason to continue with the ban,” he said.

Visitors from the GCC countries represent about 40 per cent of our tourism industry and nearly 60 per cent of our tourism receipts, he said.

International arrivals to Lebanon declined from 2.2 million visitors in 2010 to 1.85 million in 2011 to 1.6 million in 2012, due to the Arab Spring and especially war in Syria.

Lebanon’s tourism industry is estimated to have contributed $4.3 billion to the country’s economy in 2012, equivalent to around 10 percent of GDP, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC). WTTC forecast, issued prior to the Syrian crisis, said, tourism would generate $15.5 billion or 35.5 per cent of overall economic activity in Lebanon in 2012, including 461,000 jobs representing 33.8 per cent of total employment in 2012. However, things have not worked in that direction.

Its 4 million population share a $43 billion economy that grew at 3 per cent last year, according the International Monetary Fund (IMF), despite challenges.

The tourism industry, which represents 25 per cent of Lebanon’s gross domestic product (GDP) has been suffering due to also the political instability in the country which has witnessed changes of guard a few times in the last few years. Strengthening political stability is expected to boost the industry’s performance further. The tourism industry earned $7.2 billion (Dh26.4 billion) in 2011.

“We are waiting for a new government to be formed in the next few weeks and hopefully then, situation will improve,” he said.

The country had attracted $5 billion in new investment in the tourism industry, about 40 per cent from abroad last year. The country has increased hotel capacity 30 per cent from 16,000 rooms spread across 600 hotels to 21,000 rooms.

Lebanon has put up its largest pavilion at the Arabian Travel Market with 32 partners trying to win back the GCC tourists.