BEIRUT: Most of the hotels in Beirut and Mount Lebanon reported a brisk business during Eid al-Fitr but did not expect this trend to continue too long. “Our rooms were fully booked during the first two days of Eid al-Fitr,” the head of the reservations desk at Coral Beach Hotel in Jnah told The Daily Star.
He said that reservations on Aug. 28 and before the beginning of Eid stood at 70 percent, while occupancy was much less in the holy month of Ramadan, when most of the visitors were Europeans coming in groups and not Arabs.
“Arabs have only started to come during Eid,” he said.
His remarks were echoed by Elie Mahfouz, who works on the reservations desk at Mayflower Hotel in Hamra. “Europeans were our main visitors during Ramadan and the occupancy rate reached only 40 percent but it hit 100 percent starting the first day of Eid al-Fitr,” he said. Mahfouz expects this rate to remain fixed until Sept. 15.
Comments made by Beirut hotels’ were confirmed by Tourism Minister Fadi Abboud, who said that occupancy rates in Beirut hotels reached 100 percent during Eid al-Fitr but that they are expected to go down by the end of the first week of September.
“Occupancy rates this week stand at 100 percent in Beirut hotels but I don’t really expect a great improvement in the tourism activity following Eid al-Fitr and until the end of this year due to the turmoil prevailing in the region,” he told The Daily Star.
The Lebanese tourism sector has been hard hit since the beginning of the security and political turmoil in Syria, as most of the Arab tourists visit Lebanon by land via Syria.
“Tourism by land has dropped by around 80 percent during the past few months due to the security problems in Syria,” said Abboud.
Abboud has on many occasions announced that his ministry is trying to solve this issue by starting with low cost flights. “We are trying our best to start with low cost flights because, to be honest with you, this is the only solution we have,” he said.
This idea of starting with low cost flights was floated in the past couple of months after the tourism season in Lebanon witnessed a 65 percent drop in tourists coming by land, according to a statement made by Abboud during the month of July to the Voice of Lebanon Radio Station.
“We lost 21,000 Jordanian tourists and more than 20,000 Iranian tourists last month,” Abboud said, noting on the other hand a 12 percent rise in European and U.S. tourist arrivals.
While Beirut hotels were occupied at a 100 percent rate, those operating in Mount Lebanon recorded 90 percent occupancy rates in Bhamdoun and Aley and only 50 percent in the rest of the mountain region. “Some of the hotels in the mountain area did not record high occupancy rates because they mainly rely on tourists coming by land,” he said.
Abboud assured that most of the tourists who visited Lebanon during Eid al-Fitr came by plane.
His comments were echoed by Rand Ibrahim, who is responsible for the reservations department at Ramada Hotel. Ibrahim said that most of the tourists visiting her hotel are coming via plane to avoid being faced with security problems that may occur by coming via Syria.
Ibrahim said that occupancy during Ramadan reached only 50 percent and visitors were mainly Europeans coming to Lebanon for business purposes. According to Ibrahim, Arab tourists have started flocking to Lebanon at the beginning of Eid al-Fitr. “The occupancy rate went up to 80 percent on Aug. 28 while it reached 100 percent on Sept. 1 and 2,” she said. Ibrahim expects the hotel to remain fully booked until Sept. 6.
Some hotels have also assured that tourists included Syrian nationalities who are coming for tourism or to escape security problems in their country.
“Occupancy rate reached 100 percent on Aug. 29 and during the Eid al-Fitr week,” said head of the reservations department at Crown Plaza Hotel in Beirut, who added that most of the Arab tourists visiting his hotel came by plane. He said the number of Syrian tourists increases mainly on Thursdays and Fridays of each week. “That’s because most of the bloody protests take place on Fridays after Muslim prayers so people tend to avoid them,” he said.
While most of the hotels in Beirut and Mount Lebanon witnessed a drop during Ramadan, Grand Hills hotel in Broummana has surprisingly registered a 90 percent occupancy rate during this holy month. “This rate went up to 100 percent during Eid al-Fitr, but it is expected to go down starting Sept. 4,” said Mario Malkoun, assistant front office manager.