BEIRUT: The assassination of former Finance Minister Mohammad Shatah Friday has prompted many tourists to cancel their hotel room bookings for New Year’s Eve, dealing another blow to the shopping season.
“We lost around 15 percent of our New Year reservations within two hours after the explosion,” said Mohammad Kanaan, director of Sales and Marketing at the Golden Tulip Hotel in Hamra.
Kanaan said most of the reservations were from Turkey, Egypt and Jordan. “We had 80 percent reservations this morning, but following the explosion it dropped to 65 percent and we are definitely expecting more cancellations to take place in the coming few hours.”
Shatah, a senior aide to former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, was killed along with at least five others in a car bombing in Downtown Beirut Friday morning.
Lebanon this year has been rocked by a series of bombings related to the ongoing conflict in neighboring Syria that is weighing heavily on the Lebanese economy and its different sectors.
Hotels in many areas of Lebanon have already been suffering from low occupancy rates compared to previous years. Many of them have incurred heavy losses in 2013 and Friday’s bombing contributed to the further deterioration of the sector.
“My friends in travel agencies told me that they have already witnessed between a 30 and 40 percent drop in reservations to Lebanon for the coming festive season,” Kanaan said. “Groups of 60 and 70 persons in some hotels have already canceled.”
Meanwhile, some of the tourists and visitors staying at Campbell Gray Hotel, located in Downtown Beirut, were seen packing their luggage and heading to the airport following the bomb attack.
“Some of our Qatari clients checked out today in addition to canceling reservations for their families for New Year,” said Hilal Saade, the hotel’s director of Sales and Marketing.
Saade said that most cancellations usually take place 24 hours after any security problem. “This is the usual trend,” he said.
“We are expecting cancellations to take place because the location of the explosion is in the center of Beirut, an area that is usually very attractive to tourists,” he said, adding that tourism activity usually gets affected when a security incident takes place in Tripoli or Beirut’s southern suburbs. “What if such an incident happens in the center of Beirut?”
Saade said that prior to Christmas they issued a policy whereby tourists are obliged to pay for three nights even if they reserve for two nights only in order to encourage their clients to stay longer in the country. “However, we had to cancel this policy following the explosion today.”
The Four Seasons Hotel, which is also located in the Downtown area, reported that early departures were witnessed following the blast. The hotel’s sales and marketing director Roger Saad said cancellations Friday were very low but the picture would get clearer by Saturday.
Saad added that New Year’s reservations reached 90 percent, but he was not sure whether the hotel would be able to maintain that rate.
Other hotels such as the Phoenicia Intercontinental and the White House said they had not yet seen any cancellations. “We still did not see any cancellations but we are not getting any new reservations,” said Michel Mallat, Head of the Public Relations Department at Phoenicia Intercontinental.
For his part, Wissam Msharrafieh, manager of White House Suites, said that no cancellations had occurred so far but he was very worried because people usually reacted a day after the occurrence of any security incident. “Moreover, most of our clients are Iraqis who usually don’t care much because they are used to such issues.”
Hotels are not the only businesses affected by Friday’s explosion. Shopping activity in Beirut Souks was heavily impacted as well. Half of the shops were closed while cafes and restaurants were almost empty.
“We used to have a waiting list at our restaurant on regular days but today as you can see we barely have one or two busy tables,” said a waiter at a well-known restaurant in Beirut Souks.
Most of the shops interviewed by The Daily Star reported an absence of customers. “The souk is empty and we could not sell anything today,” said a shop manager at Vero Moda. “We usually rely on the holiday season to increase our sales, but I can say that if the situation remains the same in the coming three days we will lose around $100,000 in sales.”
“Christmas season was really good but now all is gone and we do not expect things to get better in the coming few days,” said a salesman at Massimo Dutti. He added that L’Occitane, a bath and body shop, was one of the stores that did not open Friday because its saleswomen had been badly wounded in the explosion as she headed to work.