Eid al-Adha no holiday for tourism sector

People sit at the Costa cafe in Hamra, Friday, Oct. 18, 2013. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: Business activity during the Eid al-Adha holiday posted its third consecutive year-on-year decline as the number of Gulf tourists and Lebanese expatriates visiting Lebanon dwindled due to political and security instability.

Hotel occupancy rates in Beirut and across the country dropped and the average rate per room followed suit as the service sector struggled in vain to attract clients, Jean Beiruti, secretary-general of the Hotel Owners Association told The Daily Star.

The hotel occupancy rate in the capital during the two-day holiday stood at 65 percent, shedding around 15 percentage points compared to the same period of last year, while the average rate per room decreased from $120 to $105, according to Hotel Owners Association data.

More alarming to Beiruti than the drop in the rate per room was the decrease in the duration of stay of tourists: “Tourists used to spend between one to two weeks in Lebanon prior to the Adha holiday. However, the duration of stay this year was down to three days.”

Occupancy rates in Beirut during the first 15 days of the month stood at 50 percent while the average rate per room reached $96.

Beiruti said that hotels used to give discounts of 20 percent of the advertised rates but added that “today, discounts are reaching 40 percent.”

Outside Beirut, occupancy rates fluctuated between 25 and 30 percent, Patrick Romanos, operations manager at Printania hotel in Broumana, 19 km northeast of Beirut, told The Daily Star.

Paul Aris, head of the Restaurants Syndicate, told The Daily Star that service-sector revenues had dropped by around 15 percent compared to the same period last year and by 65 percent from the peak level of 2010.

By the end of 2011, the number of tourists dropped 24 percent from a peak of 2.17 million visitors in 2010, when The New York Times named Beirut in the top ten out of 44 destinations to visit that year.

According to figures from the Tourism Ministry, the number of visitors continued to decrease in 2012, posting a 17.5 percent decline from 2011 after Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait warned their citizens against traveling to Lebanon due to security concerns.

With the war in Syria about to enter its third year, there is no sign that the sharp fall in the number of Arab Gulf tourists will be reversed in the foreseeable future.

In the first eight months of 2013, the number of Arab tourists, who account for most the spending, declined by another 18.8 percent.

As part of its efforts to shore up the tourism sector, which accounts for nearly one-fifth of Lebanon’s GDP, the Tourism Ministry has launched several advertising campaign to make up for lost revenue from Arab Gulf tourists by attracting visitors from countries such as Jordan and Iraq.

In June, Iraqi tourists topped the list of visitors to the country, comprising 36 percent of tourist arrivals to Lebanon, Tourism Ministry figures show.

However, Beiruti said the Tourism Ministry’s efforts were not enough.

“We can attract tourists from countries where the situation is less stable than Lebanon, but in order to succeed we have to provide incentives rather than launch marketing and advertising campaigns,” Beiruti said.

While the Tourism Ministry has urged national carrier Middle East Airlines to cut fares to attract Iraqi and Jordanian visitors who used to travel to Lebanon by land through Syria, Beiruti said the government should subsidize the difference to encourage MEA to cut ticket prices further.

But even this suggestion is unlikely to materialize in view of the Treasury’s budget deficit and mounting spending.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 19, 2013, on page 4.




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