Libya: Now open for business
By Paul Sloan, Business 2.0 Magazine

(Business 2.0 Magazine) -- A nation emerging from international pariah status is a blank slate for investors.

Investment level: Any

Risk level: High

Improbable as it may sound, Libya - the North African nation with which the U.S. government restored diplomatic relations only this May - is now welcoming American entrepreneurs with open arms.

"Libya is a virgin market," begins a recent State Department report about doing business there. "Opportunities exist in almost every sector."

Libya is rich in oil, and top energy companies are expanding there. But other possibilities are emerging, starting with tourism. The country has dozens of archaeological sites and 1,100 miles of undeveloped beachfront - attractions that will lure visitors and investors alike.

By 2010, Libya expects to have 1 million tourists a year, more than triple the current number. Hotels are expanding in the capital city of Tripoli. Bus services are popping up.

Several Italian firms are building resorts, and France's Club Med (Charts) is reportedly prospecting.

"We are essentially a brand-new country," says Naser Edeeb, who runs Safari Tourism Services, a Tripoli-based tour company.

People like Edeeb have become key conduits to outside investors. He launched his business in 1996, taking Europeans to ruins and on trips through the desert. Lately, he says, he's been fielding calls from Americans looking for help with Libya's various regulatory agencies.

Even with a reputable local partner clearing the way, plenty of obstacles loom to trip up Western investors.

Banks began installing ATMs only last year. Credit cards are just starting to appear. Strict rules govern advertising. And the country is dry (not arid, but completely booze-free).

"Talk about a disadvantage," says Geoff Porter, an analyst with Eurasia Group. Top of page

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