BEIRUT: Tourism Minister Fadi Abboud said over the weekend that the number of visitors to Lebanon in 2011 declined by 24 percent compared to 2010, but unveiled the ministry’s plan to revive the tourism sector by 2015.
“The crises in the Arab world did not spare Lebanon’s tourism sector, which suffered greatly as the total number of visitors to Lebanon in 2011 fell to 1,655,000, a decline of 24 percent from 2010, when the number of visitors reached 2,168,000,” Abboud said.
Speaking on the second day of a conference entitled “The Arab Spring: Transformations and Expectations” at Sagesse University in Ashrafieh Saturday, Abboud attributed the decline in the number of visitors to events in neighboring Syria, which dissuaded many from traveling to Lebanon by land.
“The number of Jordanians and Iranians [coming to Lebanon via Syria] was reaching approximately 300,000 annually but this number declined by 70 percent [in 2011] compared to 2010.”
The minister also said that Lebanon’s government failed to take advantage of unrest in Arab countries to promote Lebanon and attract tourists, citing the administration’s decision not to lower airfare ticket prices or improve infrastructure and other policies related to the tourism sector.
Abboud has maintained that his ministry’s 2012 budget falls below the level required to give a much needed boost to the vital tourism industry. Figures show that, at 95,816 people, the number of visitors to Lebanon so far this year dipped by 2.15 percent compared to the same period in 2011.
Abboud unveiled his ministry’s plan to boost the annual number of tourists to 4 million by 2015, adding that such a long-term project, which involves implementing agreements regarding tourism and services between Arab countries, requires serious commitment by other ministries in the government.
“We are also working on rehabilitating the Rashid Karami international fairground in Tripoli so as to transform it into a resort similar to Disney Land and its ilk,” he said, stressing the need to encourage environmental tourism in the country by undertaking the development of a number of islands off the coast of Tripoli.
Despite the decrease in the number of tourists in Lebanon, a report by Ernst & Young’s indicated that hotel occupancy rates in the capital are improving from last year.
The survey, which covers hotels in major MENA cities, said that the average occupancy rate of hotels in Beirut reached 60 percent in January 2012, a 16 percent increase year over year.
The survey, quoted by Byblos Bank’s weekly newsletter, said room yields soared by 40 percent during the same period.
The occupancy rate at Beirut hotels was the 10th highest among 21 markets in the region, improving from position 20 in January 2011.
The survey said the average rate per room at Beirut establishments was $229 in January 2012, ranking the capital’s hotels as the seventh most expensive in the region.
Rates increased by 4 percent year on year and Beirut posted the eighth highest increase among all markets in the region, behind Dubai Apartments and Makkah.
The average rate per room in Beirut came above the regional average of $191, which increased by a marginal 0.4 percent from $190.4 in January 2012.
Revenues per available room (RevPAR) were $139 in January 2012, up from $99 in January 2011. Beirut ranked in ninth place regionally behind Doha and Muscat and ahead of Riyadh and Kuwait.