However, the onset of the Lebanese Civil War, which lasted from 1975-1990, devastated the country's tourism industry.
For the next decade and a half Lebanon slowly began to rebuild its tourism sector before it was rocked again by the assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005 and the war with Israel in 2006.
Trouble erupted again in 2008 as Lebanon violence pushed the country to the brink of civil war, but the election of President Michel Suleiman in May of that year greatly improved the political situation in Lebanon and it has remained relatively trouble-free ever since.
The peace and stability that Lebanon is experiencing has been a boon for tourism, with the number of visitor arrivals in the first quarter hitting a record 434,418, an increase of 57% compared to the same period in 2008.
Lebanon's ministry of tourism believes the country is on course to receive two million visitors by the end of 2009, which would be a first for the nation.
All of this is welcome news for the country, as tourism is a key pillar of its economy. It is estimated that the Lebanon's travel and trade industry will contribute more than $2.5bn to the country's economy in 2009, equal to 9.3% of its GDP.
'World's healthiest tourism sector'
'Tourism is absolutely back on the map in Lebanon,' according to Haitham Mattar, Commercial Director-Near East and Area General Manager for InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG). He claims that Beirut is now the healthiest performing tourism market in the world, with IHG's hotels in the capital achieving record performance.
'It almost feels like people were deprived from going to Lebanon for the past few years, and now all of a sudden it has had this influx of people who want to see the country again,' he said.
The main tourists to the country are Lebanese expatriates and the GCC market, led by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
'We have had high occupancy levels since November,' Mattar noted. 'What normally used to be our shoulder season in Mid-January, February and March is now high season. It's delightful to see the business come back and see people returning back to Lebanon with a lot of confidence in the country.'
With occupancy soaring, one of the biggest challenges facing Lebanon's tourism industry is a lack of hotels to serve the growing number of tourists. 'Lebanon has only 5,000 rooms, but at the moment demand is five to six times greater than that,' he said.
IHG has five hotels in Lebanon, making it the largest hotel chain in the country. It does not have any hotels in the pipeline in the country at the moment, but it is in talks with investors who have shown interest in building properties, he said.
Change in perceptions
One of the main reasons that Lebanon's tourism industry suffered in the past was negative media, says Amine Nasser, general manager of Saad Tours in Beirut. 'I can guarantee that Lebanon has been the most secure destination for tourists in our whole region over the past few years, but the media still takes a negative view of our country,' he said.
Despite the negative press, the summer season will be 100% fully booked, mostly with Arab guests. 'It is the place where they can enjoy European service and cuisine, and yet people still speak Arabic. So for them this is heaven. They can interact with people easily,' he noted.
Nasser says the country's tourism industry gets a significant boost from the seven million Lebanese living outside the country - compared to the country's population of 4.5 million - many of whom are prospering and wish to come back to visit and introduce their kids and family to the country.
Meanwhile, there are signs that Lebanon's image as a tourist destination is changing among the Western media. In January, the New York Times listed Beirut as the first of 'the 44 places to go in 2009', beating other top competitors such as Washington DC, Berlin and Las Vegas.
At the same time, there are fears that this period of calm may come to an abrupt halt when the country has its elections on June 7. Hezbollah is confident that it will achieve an election victory and has ratcheted up its criticism of Israel prior to the vote. Such rhetoric is not going unnoticed by new Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose campaign featured regular attacks on former Prime Minister Ehud Barak's policies toward Lebanon.