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French Version

Lebanon sheds war image for Eid al-Fitr

Hotels report full occupancy during holiday

The July war image apparently did not dissuade dedicated Arab tourists from returning to Lebanon in large numbers to spend the Eid al-Fitr holiday.

Most of the Beirut hotels that saw a huge drop in the volume of business in the first weeks of the war are reporting 100 percent room occupancy with many of the visitors deciding to stay a little longer.

Arab tourists can be seen in the restaurants and coffee shops in the Beirut Central District and other parts of the city.

Lebanon was expecting more than 1.6 million tourists during the summer season before the war broke out but these expectations were abruptly dashed as Israeli warplanes zoomed over the capital, firing rockets at different targets in the southern suburbs.

The closure of Rafik Hariri International Airport at the start of the war also prompted thousands of terrified Arab and European tourists to pack up their luggage and head straight to Syria or Cyprus.

Some of the five-star hotels were forced to lay off hundreds of staff after business fell by over 80 percent during the war.

Tourism Minister Joe Sarkis said earlier that the war has deprived Lebanon of $3 billion in revenues from tourism but expressed confidence that visitors will eventually come back to Lebanon once the situation becomes more stable.

But the war image changed totally once the government and donor states stepped in to clear the rubble and start rebuilding.

For example, the Commodore Hotel on Hamra Street is back in business as visitors from Jordan and Kuwait booked rooms even before the holiday started.

"We have 100 percent occupancy and we expect business to remain the same in the coming few days," Manal Salem, the hotel coordinator, told The Daily Star on Thursday, adding that the bulk of the visitors are from Jordan while the rest are from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

Salem said that during the war only 20 to 40 percent of the rooms were occupied.

She said her hotel is closely coordinating with tour operators to bring in more visitors.

Le Bristol Hotel, which is in the heart of the Lebanese capital, was one of the few hotels which did not even feel the impact of the war.

"Most if not all of our rooms have been occupied over the past three months," said Pascal Thabet, Le Bristol's director of sales and marketing.

She added that Le Bristol was filled with journalists, UN staff, humanitarian groups and NGOs at the peak of the war.

"At least 80 percent of our rooms were booked by visitors during the war."

She added that many businessmen and investors are expected to come to Lebanon in November to attend conferences and seminars.

The Phoenicia InterContinental Hotel is also fully booked by mostly Arab visitors.

Middle East Airlines (MEA) chairman Mohammad Hout said the national carrier has seen a rise in the number of passengers this month.

"We can't say that our operations are up to expectations but the number of passengers flying MEA this month was relatively good," he said.

He added that most of the passengers were Lebanese living in the Gulf.

The Tourism Ministry and the private sector are planning to launch a wide media campaign to lure tourists back to Lebanon.

One of the hotel managers said that political stability is the main condition for the return of tourists to Lebanon.

Beirut 27-10-2006
Osama Habib
The Daily Star

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