The Med has a new destination
Simon Calder’s career in travel started at Gatwick Airport, where he cleaned aircraft for Laker Airways and later worked as a security officer. He became The Independent’s Travel Correspondent in 1994, and is known as “the Man Who Pays His Way” because he does not accept free travel facilities. He writes across the Independent titles, as well as for the Evening Standard.
Saturday 22 October 2011
Within hours of the death of Colonel Gaddafi, adventurous travellers were consulting their atlases and diaries to plan a journey to the newly liberated Libya.
One leading London tour operator reported plenty of pent-up demand. "There are a lot of clients who want to be in the 'first wave' of tourism to Libya," said Ted Wake, managing director of Kirker Holidays, which is hoping to start running trips again next March.
"It is surprising how quickly things can return to normal once political stability is restored. March is a great time to go there, and it would be something for the local hoteliers and ground handlers to work towards. There's nothing like a date in the diary," he added.
Libya has a long Mediterranean coastline and some of the most outstanding archaeological sites in the world.
But, under Gaddafi, tourism was a minority sport: visa rules rendered independent travel largely impossible, and even the relentless expansion of the cruise business bypassed Libya. In the short term, no UK companies will send tourists there because of Foreign Office advice warning against it. There is also the problem of access. British Airways and BMI cancelled their flights to Tripoli when the conflict began. Yesterday a spokeswoman for BMI said: "We are working closely with the relevant authorities with a view to resuming services as soon as it is practical and safe to do so." The airline could resume flights in as little as a month.
In the longer term, the neighbouring nations will be looking at Libya with some trepidation. Egypt and Tunisia both depend heavily on tourism and will not welcome a new competitor on their doorstep. Conversely, though, opening Libya's frontiers will create a range of opportunities for overland adventures between Tunis and Cairo that have not existed for generations.
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