Lebanese tourism figures plummet

THE NUMBER of tourists visiting Lebanon dropped 18.5% last month, according to recently released statistics from the country’s Ministry of Tourism. Only 49,796 tourists went to Lebanon last month, down from 61,113 in February 2004.

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By  Rhys Jones Published  April 10, 2005

THE NUMBER of tourists visiting Lebanon dropped 18.5% last month, according to recently released statistics from the country’s Ministry of Tourism. Only 49,796 tourists went to Lebanon last month, down from 61,113 in February 2004. Lebanon’s tourism industry was well on the up before the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri on February 14. The country was attracting wealthy Arab tourists, international business travellers and a growing share of Europeans. However, figures have plummeted since the initial blast. “If the situation was normal, our expectations would have been higher than they were in 2004,” said Wadih Khazen, Lebanon’s newly installed tourism minister. “We are trying our best to keep up with the tourist season for the coming summer and we are in close contact with tourist offices in other countries to attract people to Lebanon,” he added. No figures are as yet available for March, but the series of bomb attacks targeting Christian areas in Beirut’s eastern and northern suburbs have kept hotel occupancies low and foreign tourists away. Despite the bombs, the recently released Ministry of Tourism statistics are not all bad news for Lebanon. The estimated figure of 50,000 tourists that visited Lebanon this February is well above the 44,000 visitors in February 2001. The total number of tourists visiting Lebanon in the first two months of 2005 is only 8.2% lower than last year’s total and is up by 8% and 18% respectively compared with 2003 and 2002. Tourism to Lebanon hit record highs last year, bringing in around US$700 million to Lebanon’s economy. A US$1 million, year-long advertising campaign called ‘Rediscover Lebanon’, which launched in 2004, helped to increase the stream of tourists, luring over 1.2 million visitors last year. In spite of the bombings targeting New Jdeideh, Kaslik and Sad Al Boushrieh a fortnight ago, there are signs of hope. Hotel occupancies are beginning to climb back from their February low-point and areas of Downtown Beirut, which were damaged by the explosion that resulted in Hariri’s death, are set to re-open. “We have good bookings for the summer,” insisted Khazen. “A lot of tourists and Lebanese living abroad are hoping to come here as long as the situation settles down,” he added. Beirut’s landmark Phoenicia Intercontinental, which was heavily damaged by the Hariri bomb, re-opened last week. “People have business here. There is a business community that will come back, that needs to come back, and also you know people forget very quickly,” said Pascal Gauvin, director of operations for the Inter-Continental Hotels Group in Lebanon.

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