The Libyan authorities are denying entry to tourists if they don't have an Arabic translation of their passport - even if they have a valid visa, European officials and airliners said Monday.
According to the AP, the sudden change in entry rules has emerged after planeloads of European tourists were forced to return home after touchdown in Libya. Tripoli has not officially announced the change.
The development reflects confusion in government policies, amid recent strides by Libya to promote itself as a lucrative tourist destination.
Eighteen French nationals were stranded at the Tripoli airport since Sunday night, until the French envoy to Libya intervened Monday on their behalf and they were allowed to return home, a French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Pascale Andreani, said in an online briefing Monday.
Another 172 French citizens who arrived Sunday evening in the city of Sebha, in the south of Libya, were not allowed to get off their charter flight run by Air Mediterranee. The plane returned to France, arriving in Paris overnight, Andreani said.
Another 83 French nationals, already in Libya, were not able to leave Sebha on Sunday night, as the rule change also applies to tourists seeking to leave.
Some 37 passengers were sent back to Zurich, Switzerland, after arriving in Libya Sunday on a Swiss flight, also because they were not carrying Arabic-language translation of their passports, Jean-Claude Donzel, the airline's spokesman, said.
It should be noted that experts predict Libya is to become one of the world's tourism hot spots. This prediction appeared in the World Travel Market Global Trend Report 2007 released Monday, and published in partnership with market intelligence company Euromonitor International.
Libya - along with other countries in North Africa - has been neglected by international visitors mainly due to international embargo. Now the Libyan government is giving high priority to tourism development and has launched many projects to upgrade the necessary infrastructure, the report said.
In 2006, tourism investment in Libya has attracted 73 national and foreign investors, the General Board of Tourism has reported earlier this year. The Board said in a report that contracts have been made with 21 investors to execute tourism projects, and that there are more than 42 files for associations, investment companies and investors are still under study and revision.
The Corinthia Group operates a five-star hotel in Tripoli, while the Italian company Gruppo Norman is building a resort to accommodate up to 3,800 people on Farwa Island.
Following the lifting of the international sanctions, Libya has seen a noticeable increase in the number of tourists. The number of tourists who visited Libya in 2006 reached 125,480 tourists, the General Board for Tourism announced.