Despite political tensions Lebanese tourist numbers up 24.5 percent


BEIRUT: Despite mounting political tensions over the outcome of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) investigating the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, the outgoing and incoming tourism activities in Lebanon are witnessing remarkable growth, according to travel and tourism agents.

“Our outgoing and incoming tourism programs are fully booked for the coming two weeks and we are expecting a very rewarding tourism season,” said owner and manager of Five Stars tours Hassan Daher.

Daher said his company is organizing special tours to a variety of locations inside Lebanon in order to promote the country by using his new “Know your country” slogan, not just in this season but throughout the year. “We are trying to come up with new ideas to help attract more tourists,” he said. He added that the reason behind his new idea is the fact that Lebanon still needs better promotion. “We believe that the Tourism Ministry must also help in promoting Lebanon’s tourism sector, not only during holidays but throughout the year as well.”

Daher said that tours inside Lebanon are usually targeted by foreigners as well as Lebanese. “We have also started to witness an increase in the demand for tours to ski resorts during the past week,” he said.

A couple of weeks ago ski resorts owners in the mountains of Lebanon were worried that drought would drive away business, until finally prayers were answered as heavy rain hit the country and brought the first snowfall of winter. “We are expecting a further increase of demand on ski resorts trips,” he said.

Daher added that political tensions did not affect his business and argued that people usually do not worry much about security issues when making reservations to other countries because they can usually get back their money if some serious unexpected events take place. “We are the ones who will be mostly affected if any security problems come up because we have commitments with travel agents and tour organizers outside the country,” he noted.

Daher’s comments were echoed by owner and general manager of Tania Travel Georges Petrakian who said that people’s decisions to book holidays are not usually affected by political discourses and tensions as most citizens have become accustomed to these issues as the country has gone through a very difficult period over the last 35 years. “There is a lot of demand on offers to various European and Arab destinations but what we really need currently is a settlement between the different political parties for us to keep up the good work and business,” he said.

Petrakian said his agency focuses mostly on outgoing tours and not incoming ones since they are not too profitable for him. He believes that Europeans are the ones who are mostly attracted to tours inside Lebanon “because they appreciate cultural monuments.”

A statement issued by Tourism Minister Fadi Abboud last week said that the number of European tourists coming to Lebanon increased by around 15 percent this year.

“This reflects the great potential of Lebanon in attracting tourists from all over the world when the political and security situation is stable,” it stated.

Abboud added that flight reservations to Lebanon increased by around 17 percent this month compared to the same period last year.

However, he said that while he expected better tourism activity for the year overall, Ramadan falling in the middle of summer had interrupted the season. He also added that the arrival of a number of Arab tourists after the end of Ramadan compensated for the slowdown to a certain extent.

Also, president of the association of travel and tourism agents Jean Abboud previously announced that the total number of tourists is expected to reach 2.3 million by the end of 2010, which is equivalent to an increase of 24.5 percent. Another statement issued by the head of touristic federation, Jean Beyrouthy, said that hotels reservations for Christmas and New Year exceeded 70 percent in Beirut and reached around 50 percent in other areas. “The hotel reservation rate in Beirut is similar to that recorded during the same period of last year,” it added.

Beyrouthy’s statistics were confirmed by head of incoming operations at Wild Discovery, Jihad Abaji, who said that hotels reservations in the mountains reached around 50 percent. “We still do not know how much it is going to be exactly because some people call and reserve at the last moment in mountains hotels and chalets for Christmas and New Year,” he said.

Beyrouthy argued that the tourism season would have recorded even better results if it was not for the sporadic political convulsions which have affected the overall economic performance.