BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Tourism Ministry voiced optimism about the ailing sector after hundreds of Kuwaiti visitors arrived at Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport Friday, ahead of a national day vacation in the Gulf Cooperation Council country.
“Lebanon reassures tourists that we will provide the best conditions for their stays,” Fadi Abboud said, adding that the arrival of seven fully booked flights from Kuwait underscored the return of strong tourism ties between the two countries.
A source at the airport said Kuwaiti tourists would keep arriving over the next few days ahead of the Kuwaiti National Day.
“More than 70 percent of the passengers were Kuwaiti nationals and the rest Lebanese citizens working in Kuwait,” the source told The Daily Star.
Several additional flights by Jazeera Airways, Kuwait Airways and Lebanon’s flag carrier Middle East Airlines are expected to arrive to Lebanon in the coming few days, the source added.
Some of the Kuwaiti nationals said they would spend the week in the mountains while others will book rooms in Beirut hotels.
The arrival of Kuwaiti tourists will likely give hope to the tourism sector, which has seen its worst season in years.
Travel warnings issued by several GCC countries, including Kuwait, saw the number of tourists fall considerably this year, prompting many restaurants to shut down and several hotels to lay off dozens of staff to cut losses.
The number of tourists to Lebanon declined 17.51 percent to1.36 million in 2012 compared to 2011. The decline stands at a whopping 37 percent, compared to 2010’s 2.17 million visitors.
Osta Bourjaily, head of the Bhamdoun municipality, a major destination for Kuwaiti tourists in Lebanon, said that Kuwaitis, particularly homeowners, had not stopped coming to Lebanon, despite GCC travel warnings.
“These are probably Kuwaitis who come back to Lebanon on a regular basis; they know the country by heart,” he added. But Bourjaily said the town of Bhamdoun had not seen any additional tourist activity over the past few days.
Mona Fares, head of the tourism development department at the ministry, said during a ceremony at the airport that a ministry-sponsored travel and shopping discounts campaign had helped shore up the sector.
Asked whether GCC countries would ease implementation of travel warnings issued last summer, Fares said Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had expressed readiness to allow their nationals to visit Lebanon.
Lebanon launched a broad media campaign to promote the country as a tourist destination as Prime Minister Najib Mikati held talks with GCC leaders to persuade them to drop their travel warnings.