BEIRUT: Trade activity has dropped by 20 to 25 percent starting mid-June compared to same period of last year, said Nicolas Chammas, president of Beirut Traders Association. “It’s bad business as usual,” he told The Daily Star.
“We were expecting the trade activity to pick up during Eid al-Fitr but this did not happen and now we need new momentum to improve the current situation,” he said.
According to Chammas, the election of a new president or a halt to the Israeli war on Gaza would generate enough momentum to keep shops from going out of business.
“The general atmosphere in the region and the complicated internal political situation are weighing heavily on trade activity,” he said, adding that people were not visiting shops despite the heavy discounts.
Chammas said that small players were going out of business because of slow demand for their products. He also said he expected more and more shops to close if the situation remains the same.
“Shops are suffering from financial problems and some have started restructuring their debts while others have sold some properties they own to be able to sustain their businesses,” he said.
“The problem this year is that we do not have enough Lebanese expatriates while Arabs are absent,” Chammas added.
The Tourism Ministry said a week ago that the number of Arab tourists increased by 90 percent in June compared with the previous year.
A statement released by the ministry cited an 80.5 percent increase in Saudi tourists this June, pointing out that the number of visitors topped 7,000 in June compared with approximately 4,000 during the same month in 2013.
Meanwhile, the largest percentage increase in tourists were visitors from Kuwaiti and the UAE, with more than 4,000 and 800 respectively in June, an increase of approximately 123 percent compared with the previous year.
The improvement came after several Gulf countries in May lifted their advisories against travel to Lebanon, shortly after the formation of Tammam Salam’s Cabinet and the implementation of the security plan in Tripoli and the Bekaa Valley.
Chammas said that trade activity witnessed a great improvement in the second quarter of the year but then it started dropping following the suicide bombing that took place in Duroy Hotel in June as tourists traveled back to their homelands.
Hotels that were interviewed by The Daily Star reported that occupancy rates during the Eid al-Fitr vacation were lower than expected.
“The occupancy rate during Eid al-Fitr stood at only 80 percent though we expected it to reach 100 percent during the first two days at least,” said Hilal Saade director of sales and marketing at Le Gray hotel.
Saade said that despite the tense security situation that was prevailing before Eid al-Fitr last year, occupancy at Le Gray at the time had reached 100 percent.
Similarly, Coral Beach Hotel and Resort reported an occupancy rate of 94 percent compared to 100 percent during Eid al-Fitr last year. “We were expecting not to reach 100 percent occupancy this year because of the complicated political situation and mainly the absence of a president,” said a representative of the marketing department at the hotel.
Likewise, Mohammad Kanaan, director of sales and marketing at Golden Tulip Hotel, said that occupancy at his hotel only reached 80 percent, less than what he expected.
Several hotel representatives reported an absence of tourists from the Gulf region, adding that most of the demand for rooms came from Jordanians, Syrians, Iraqis and Lebanese expatriates.
Most of them said that they could not predict what the occupancy rate would be like in the coming month because business would largely depend on the security and political situation in the country.
However, Ayman Nasreddine, director of sales and marketing at Hotel Le Cavalier, said that he has started receiving calls for conference reservations for the month of August, which is expecting to boost the occupancy rate at his hotel to around 70 percent.
As for Saade, he said that reservations on the book for August stand at 25 percent for the time being, adding that most of his customers were Lebanese expats who are coming to attend their relatives’ weddings in Lebanon.
“We are expecting this rate to go up to 56 percent in August,” he added.