Resurgent Tripoli ready to put out the welcome mat

Hotels are starting to re-open in Tripoli following the revolution, as business and economic activity gradually returns.

Spots such as ruins of the Greek and Roman city of Cyrene in eastern Libya could help the country revive its tourism industry. Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters
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Kosta Kourotsidis had been in Libya managing the Radisson Blu hotel in Tripoli for just a few weeks before conflict broke out almost a year ago.

The hotel shut its doors and he was evacuated from the country along with 120 other expat staff at the property.

The hotelier returned to the UAE - where he had been based before his promotion to the general manager role in Libya - to wait out the revolution. At the beginning of this year, the hotel reopened under Radisson's management to cater for demand as companies start to re-enter the country.

"We're expecting with the new Libya that more companies will come to Tripoli and more investors might come in because doing business in Tripoli might be easier than it was in the past," said Mr Kourotsidis, who arrived back in Libya in December to prepare the property for its reopening. "There's a lot to do in terms of development."

He said the owners opened the property a couple of months into the conflict and rented rooms to journalists during the revolution. But the Rezidor Hotel Group, which owns the Radisson Blu brand, was not involved in this. Following the conflict, Rezidor sent specialists to Libya and undertook a security assessment before deciding to reopen.

There are now some significant differences in the hotel's operations.

"We have increased security in the hotel," Mr Kourotsidis said. "We have our own security consultants."

And sourcing supplies for the hotel was a challenge, he added.

But in other respects it is business as usual.

"Tripoli has recovered quite fast considering that the revolution ended just a few months back," he said. "Life is pretty much normal. The day-to-day life is back in Tripoli. Shops are open, people are on the streets."

Bookings are gradually returning, he said. Last month, the hotel had an occupancy level of 29 per cent compared with 44 per cent in the same month last year.

It is charging rates of about €300 (Dh1,450) a night for a standard room ranging up to more than €600 for an executive suite.

Bookings are coming in from embassies, construction companies, airlines, IT firms, and the energy sector, as staff start to return to the country, he said. But following the civil war the Radisson hotel has lost the steady stream of business that previously came to the hotel from Muammar Qaddafi's government, Mr Kourotsidis added.

With few internationally-branded hotels in the city, other hotel chains are hoping to relaunch operations, while some are considering future opportunities in the country. A JW Marriott hotel had been open for a matter of days before it had to suspend operations because of the conflict.

"We continue to work with the hotel ownership and the authorities and look forward to resuming operations in Tripoli in the future," Marriott said.

Airlines are also returning. Etihad Airways last month launched flights to Libya.

Analysts say hotels have a role to play in paving the way for the restoration of business and economic activity in Libya.

"Although the leisure tourism of Libya is tremendous - archaeological sites, Sahara sites and oases, pristine Mediterranean beaches - Libya hotels cater mainly to the needs of business travellers," said Chiheb ben Mahmoud, the head of hotel advisory at Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels, Middle East and Africa.

"With the sheer size of construction and reconstruction needs, hotel business should be strong, and to some extent stronger - security permitting - than the mainly oil-related hotel business of the pre-revolution."

Landmark Hotels Group, based in Dubai, which had plans in place to manage a mid-range hotel in Tripoli before the civil war, is also starting to look at opportunities in Libya again.

"A couple of weeks ago we met some security experts who do a lot of work in Libya and they said generally it's much better now, so we are looking very seriously at Libya now," said Deen Sadiq, the group director of Landmark Zenath Group, the parent company of the hotel chain.

He said the company was planning to visit Libya in the next few weeks.

"We have to meet the owner who gave us the hotel for management just before the uprising. Then we have to start again, seeing first-hand what's happened and look at new hotels that we can take for lease or management."