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French Version

Political crisis takes bite out of holiday revenues for hotels, airlines

Beirut's holiday tourist season is being wrecked by the continuing political chaos, hotels and airlines that do business with the city say. Hotels report a steep drop in occupancy from last year - many usually fill all their rooms for Christmas, New Year's and Al-Adha, but this year few will reach 50-percent occupancy.

Many flights from the Gulf are fully booked, but most passengers are Lebanese expatriates coming home for the holidays. Significantly fewer tourists are flying here for the holidays than last year, and Kuwait Airways has cancelled some flights, airline officials told The Daily Star on Monday.

Raouche's Lancaster Hotel fills up for three weeks every year around Adha, but this year only 10 percent of its rooms are reserved for the feast, said general manager Bassem Fawaz.

"There are no bookings," he said. "We have nothing. Tourism here ... has a huge relation with the political situation. At the end, we are paying for this."

Beirut's five-star hotels, which typically have the city's highest occupancy, are also seeing their holiday cheer dimmed by this year's political tussles.

"Usually in Adha we have much more confirmed occupancy than now," said Adib Mokheiber, director of business development at the five-star Le Bristol in Hamra.

About 45 percent of the Bristol's rooms are reserved for Christmas and about 70 percent are booked for New Year's, he added.

The five-star Hotel Monroe in Ain al-Mreisseh lists 100 percent of its rooms as reserved for New Year's and 70 percent for Christmas, but the number of reservations that turn into paying visits might be much lower.

"Who knows if it's going to stay at 70? We are receiving a lot of cancellations," said Joyce Mouawad, the Monroe's director of marketing and events.

Despite the promising number of reservations, this year's holiday season lags far behind last year's. In 2005, "all December was perfect. [This year] there's a very big difference, starting from December 1."

Beirut's best-known hotel, the Phoenicia Inter-Continental, boasts a full slate of reservations for New Year's, but on Monday it was 20-percent full and also feeling the absence of holiday tourists.

"There's not many tourists at the moment," said receptionist Firas Musharafie.

Last year, Le Beryte Hotel in Ain al-Mreisseh was 90-percent full for the holidays, but reservations this year stand at 10 percent, said Tony Nakad, front office manager.

The Hotel Diplomat in Raouche has less than 40 percent of its rooms reserved for Christmas and New Year's, said receptionist Maher Salloukh.

"We had a lot of reservations, but most reservations are cancelled," he said. "Last year was better. During this period we were fully booked."

Hotel guests this year are more often Lebanese than the traditional Gulf tourists.

"There is no Arabic tourism now because of the situation," said Safi Bou Hamdan, receptionist at the Hotel Beau Rivage, which has 10 percent of its rooms reserved for Christmas and 25 percent for New Year's.

Lebanese citizens, not tourists, account for about three-quarters of the brisk sales of holiday plane tickets. Etihad Airways, which connects Beirut and Abu Dhabi, has fully booked all its incoming flights from Wednesday until New Year's Eve, except for a few seats on December 27, and its flights back to Abu Dhabi are sold out from January 2-9, according to sales executive Mona Raad.

"Last year we had more business," she said. As for the number of tourists coming from Abu Dhabi, she has heard "nothing encouraging" from travel agents.

Emirates, which operates four flights daily between Dubai and Beirut, reports similarly full planes throughout the holidays, but sees a "big decrease" in tourism, said sales and service agent Maya Mehdi.

Beirut 20-12-2006
The Daily Star

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