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From Sarajevo to Beirut (from Stratégies)

Mark Tungate

The war-damaged capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina is taking lessons from Beirut in a bid to attract tourists and foreign investors, reports Mark Tungate.

As my taxi rattled along the highway from the airport into Sarajevo, it was impossible to overlook the evidence of war. One of the first landmarks was an enormous bombed-out factory, its twisted steel innards exposed to the sky like the ribs of a slain android. Bullet-scarred buildings lined the route. There were soldiers on the streets. And, right opposite my hotel, the former parliament building was still a blackened hulk, a gaping hole visible where a missile had torn through its side. The thought that came into my mind was: "It's just like Beirut ."

Sarajevo cafe

I visited the capital of Lebanon six years ago, when the city was still recovering from the ravages of its own civil war. In Sarajevo last month I found the same situation: young people beginning to return from self-imposed exile, new bars and restaurants springing up alongside bomb-damaged buildings, and a feverish optimism that spilled over into a love of conversation, music, and life in general.

Sarajevo market

Sarajevo celebrated this cultural renaissance with an advertising festival called No Limit, which brought together the leading creative talents in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The highlight of the event was a debate about how to make the country more attractive to visitors and foreign entrepreneurs. In other words, how to rebrand a destination whose image has been shattered by war.

Unsurprisingly, one of the most important members of the debate came from Beirut . Najib Saab is the editor of Environment & Development magazine, a consumer publication that has covered the reconstruction of Beirut from the very beginning.

"The danger with this kind of rebranding campaign is that you either try to hide the fact that you had a war, or go in the other direction and keep apologising for it," he told the assembled marketing gurus and government officials. "I don't think you need to turn your back on the past. The fact that you are in the process of overcoming this terrible tragedy is a positive story."

© 2011 Mark Tungate
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