In addition to the tourism Minister the dinner was attended by a number of former minister, current and former MPs. Also in attendance were ambassadors, representatives of diplomatic corps and a host of guests, including members of the Lebanese business community.
In his speech, the Minister of Tourism Joseph Sarkis said, “I m very pleased to welcome you to Lebanon as participants in the AWTTE 2005, which is organized by Al-Iktissad Wal-Aamal Group, in conjunction with the Lebanese Ministry of Tourism and MEA. Your participation in this event and particularly in this year, display your strong faith and confidence in Lebanon, in its remarkable location and its promising tourism future. Lebanon is not only a tourist hub, distinguished for its climate and natural attractions, but it is also a tourist destination well-known for its cultured openness and its love of freedom and democracy. You all know perfectly well, he added, the extremely difficult conditions that resulted from the horrible assassination of former P.M. Rafic Hariri. You all know that were it not for these circumstances, Lebanon would have witnessed a much better tourist and summer season. But the decline in the tourist activity and the number of tourists remains limited if it is compared to the nature of the circumstances Lebanon witnessed. We deeply believe that Lebanon will remain a tourist hub both on the regional and international levels. As you know, Lebanon has always been able to overcome all sorts of difficulties and challenges. Its historic and natural attraction will certainly help it recover its former position on the tourism map.
Before I leave this platform, I would like to take this opportunity to send my best and deepest wishes to the prominent Arab and Lebanese journalist, May Chidiac, who is not paying the tax of the bravery and commitment to Lebanon’s freedom and independence.”
Raouf Abou Zaki, the General Manager of Al-Iktissad Wal-Aamal Group said, “Today AWTTE is held in very delicate circumstances. But this critical situation should by no means prevent us from going ahead in our efforts to develop this forum and reinforce its role in helping to stimulate tourism exchange and investment in tourism. There is no doubt that the tragic assassination of former P.M. Rafic Hariri and the repercussions it resulted in, has made the task of organizing any event in Lebanon, a great challenge. But it is also a challenge that reflects our faith in this country and the ability of its people to quickly adapt to change such as local and global political and security developments. The convening of AWTTE 2005 in Beirut and at this particular time has, then, a special significance. In fact, your participation in this forum reflects your unbending confidence in our country and in its role as a tourist destination and a center for investment, business and services. We thank you for your participation and wish you a pleasant stay in Lebanon.
Today, tourism has become a fate not an option. It has become an essential sector that greatly contributes to the GNP and plays a highly important role in stimulating other sectors, securing hard currency and creating job opportunities. Almost everywhere in the world, governments are giving increasing attention to tourism and investment in tourism. It is worthy of note here, that this increasing growth in the tourism sector is taking place in very difficult circumstances, as though has acquired immunity against incidents and security problems. It seems that Arab tourists have acquired the ability to adapt. Tourism in our countries, is no longer hindered by security problems. It is the prisoner of our policies and negative reactions, our fears and doubts. It the prisoner of various border restrictions and measures. Tourism is an inexhaustible wealth, for which we have to provide the suitable climate. If we can get rid of our doubts and suspicions, we can greatly benefit from this national, social, cultural and economic wealth.
In conclusion, AWTTE is not merely a gathering for tourism providers and tourists. It is an economic, tourist, investment and social gathering in which participants network, interact and exchange ideas and experiences in different field. We promise you that AWTTE 2006 will bring something new. It will be a comprehensive conference and a much bigger exhibition. But this objective cannot be achieved without the intensive cooperation between the public and the private sector and between the tourist, political and economic leaders in the region.”
At the end of the opening session, The Minister of Tourism Joseph Sarkis, the General Manager of Tourism, Nada Sardouk and the General Manager of Al-Iktissad Wal-Aamal Group, Raouf Abou Zaki presented Lifetime Achievement Awards.
The Honorees were:
• Mohammad Al-Hout, Chairman of the Board of Directors and General Manager of MEA.
• Mazen Salha, and Marwan Salha, Owners of the Greater Lebanese Hotel Company, the Phoenicia and Le Vendome Hotels.
• Nazmi Ouji, Chairman of the General Mediterranean Holding Group, Owner of the Royal Hotel chain.
Minister Sarkis cut the exhibition opening ribbon at Biel center in the presence of the Chairman of the Federation of Tourism Associations, Pierre Al Ashkar, Presidents of Tourism Associations, Ambassadors, and a host of business entrepreneurs.
The exhibition is open until Sunday evening. The last two days, AWTTE 2005 is open to visitors.
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