Lebanese tourism industry in ruin

The recovering Lebanese tourism industry has been dealt yet another blow following the invasion of the country by Israeli armed forces.

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By  Gemma Hornett Published  August 1, 2006

The recovering Lebanese tourism industry has been dealt yet another blow following the invasion of the country by Israeli armed forces. The popular destination, which until the recent conflict, had bounced back from 2005 terrorism attacks, posting 37% growth for the first quarter of 2006 and reporting near full occupancies this summer, is now coming to terms with another major setback. “Summer tourism season is completely off line,” said Mayor Pierre Achkar, president of Lebanese Hotel Association and vice president of the National Council of Tourism in Lebanon. “We expected between 1.5 and 1.6 million arrivals this summer. On the day of the attack, the occupancy of Lebanon nationwide was more than 92%. Within 72 hours, we were below 10%,” At time of press, all hotels remained untouched by military action and no tourist deaths or casualties had been reported. Only a handful of Beirut hotels remained open, including the five-star InterContinental Le Vendome and the Monroe Hotel on Beirut’s Corniche, while mountain resorts such as InterContinental Mountain Resort & Spa, Mzaar, were full to capacity, providing a comfortable safe haven for Lebanese nationals. Inbound and outbound tourism has been stifled and most travel businesses have shut-up-shop entirely. “It has not been possible to carry on operations in Lebanon because most tourists have been evacuated, but when military action stops, we will be totally willing to resume our services,” Tony Harfouche, head of sales and marketing at Lebanon specialist DMC, Rida International told ATN. The shockwaves of the conflict have rippled throughout the Middle East where agents, operators and wholesalers have been inundated with cancellations to Lebanon. “We are losing out on a daily basis. On the first day [of the conflict] we had 178 cancellations. At the same time, we had a rep in Beirut making outbound bookings; they were cancelled too,” explained Younes Ajdi, head of business development at Gullivers Travel Associatates (GTA). He said tourists bound for Lebanon were choosing Egypt and Turkey as alternatives where prices, attractions, food and culture were similar. “But the problem with Egypt is that flights are packed. It’s the same for Malaysia,” Ajdi added. According to Nick Wood, general manager, Etihad Holidays, “up until the end of June, sales to Lebanon were up five-fold over the same period last year”. Customers were now travelling to Jordan, Syria, Oman and Morocco instead, he added. The Maldives has also been popular according to Gerard Rao, product manager, Middle East, Africa & Indian Ocean, Emirates Holidays, who claimed bookings to Lebanon had risen 12-15% year-on-year until July. Outbound operations from Egypt have been “badly affected” revealed Ihab Shawi, sales manager, Thomas Cook Overseas Ltd, who had planned to send “many tours, groups and cruises going through Beirut”. Contrary to popular opinion, the company had “not noticed an increase in the number of people coming to Egypt instead of Lebanon,” he added. GTA’s Ajdi believed Dubai would “definitely take business” as a result of the conflict, “particularly as the hotels had started reducing rates and offering promotions to wholesalers and end users”. But Joy Thomas, general manager, Al Ahli Travel and Tourism in Deira, believed international visitor numbers to the entire Middle East, including the UAE, would be negatively impacted as a result of the ongoing troubles in Lebanon. “People in America and Europe think all the Middle East is affected by this problem,” he said. “No one can say what will happen now and whether conflict will spread to other countries.”

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