|Lebanon's tourism slide becomes a free fall in June
|The Tourism Ministry released figures showing that the number of visitors in June dropped 9.25 percent compared to the same period last year, adding that 120,955 tourists visited the country last month. Political violence has caused a sharp drop in the number of visitors traveling to Lebanon in the first half of 2005, a figure which has slipped by more than 30 percent compared to the same period last year, a tourism expert said
"What about the first five months?" wondered Alexander Najjar, chairman and general manager of Hotel Tourism Development, a consultancy group that advises hotels, resorts, as well as governmental agencies involved in this sector.
Najjar notes that in August 2004, practically all the hotels across Lebanon were fully booked whereas for the same period in 2005, "not one single hotel is full. Hotels are still doing promotions and we're already in the middle of the high season."
He added that across the mountain region, Lebanon has a 50 percent occupancy rate in its hotels.
What is even more damaging for Lebanon's standing as a potential destination is the increase in risk ratings by the foreign private organizations in the sector such as tour operators like Nouvelle Frontiere and JUI.
"This has a negative impact on Lebanon in the long term" says Najjar.
Citing examples, Eistmar, a Turkish "incentive trip" organizer has just cancelled a big tour for Ulker, the Turkish company. Incentive trips involve tours for corporations and usually significantly increase the tourism seasons.
Over 100,000 tourists from Turkey cancelled their trips to Lebanon, according to Najjar.
He added that the number of tourists from Arab countries dropped more significantly than those from Europe. Last year, Arabs represented the bulk of tourists coming to Lebanon. The assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on February 14 and the ensuing political and security events have all taken their toll on the country's tourism sector.
The drop in the number of tourists this year will definitely affect the country's balance of payments which has already recorded a large deficit.
But despite the gloomy statistics, the Chairman of Middle East Airlines Mohammad Hout told The Daily Star that the number of passengers was relatively good in June.
"We did not get any cancellations so far. But this does not mean that some Arabs may not postpone their plans to come to Lebanon after the last assassination attempt of Elias Murr, the defense minister."
He added that Arabs still represent the biggest number of passengers coming to Beirut.
"Arabs are accustomed to the events in Beirut. They will come here once the situation goes back to normal."
Hout said that a meeting of the Arab Air Carriers Organization, a group of the main Arab airlines, is still planning to meet in Beirut. He added that chairmen and general managers of several Arab airlines arrived here despite the news of the recent assassination attempt in Beirut. Other airlines were not available for comment.