Cruisers welcome, too

In addition to lifting visa restrictions for U.S. travelers, Libya will allow group blanket visas for American passengers on cruise ships.

Several cruise ships calling in Libya over the last five years have run into problems when trying to disembark American cruisers because Libya has changed its position on visas for Americans so many times. Some lines, including Seabourn, Silversea and Oceania, canceled calls to the North African nation after their ships were told that Americans would not be able to disembark once in port.

Oceania spokesman Tim Rubacky said, "We’re watching the situation develop, with interest."

The new rule was made along with a recent pact signed by the US and Libya meant to facilitate trade and investment between the two nations, a move that the Office of the United States Trade Representative called, "the latest step in a joint effort by the United States and Libya to broaden and deepen our bilateral relations."

"Naturally, we are excited about the new developments," said Ryad Sunusi, CEO of Libya Expeditions, a company that exhibited this year at the Seatrade Cruise Shipping conference in Miami. It was the only Libya exhibitor at the show. "Now, we will be able to fully market Libya in the U.S. and participate in all major travel shows," he said.

Libya still won't issue visas to passport holders with an Israeli visa or stamp in his or her passport.

— Johanna Jainchill

Libya lifted tourist visa restrictions on U.S. citizens last week, tour operators have reported.

"Effective immediately, visas are being approved for U.S. citizens for travel to Libya," Libya Expeditions CEO Ryad Sunusi said in a statement.

"We fully support … the full normalization of U.S.-Libyan relations, including the full lifting of visa restrictions on U.S. citizens for travel to Libya."

Following the news, luxury operator Travcoa said it will resume escorted tours to Libya in September.

"We’re enormously pleased that the door to Libya is open to us again," Travcoa President Jerre Fuqua said in a statement.

Libya: The Forbidden Sahara is an itinerary modeled after Travcoa’s expeditions of 2004 and 2005, during Libya’s short-lived opening to American tourists.

The 13-day journey from Tripoli visits the ancient Greek and Roman ruins of Sabratha, Apollonia and Leptis Magnam.

The tour also includes a two-night desert experience at the oasis town of Ghadames.

Travcoa has organized six, small-group journeys to Libya in 2010, with one departure in September, two in October, two in November and one in December.

Each departure is limited to a maximum of 18 guests and is led by a Travcoa travel director in addition to local guides. The operator also offers independent tours to Libya hosted by local guides.

Libya recently announced an ambitious goal to attract 1.5 million tourists annually by 2012, and thus loosened tourist visa procedures for most nationalities, according to Libya Expeditions.

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