HotelHotel reservations in Lebanon this summer will surpass last year’s and are likely to reach the highest level since 2010 unless recent tensions in the region escalate, said Pierre Achkar, president of the Syndicate of Hotel Owners. “If you look at the current reservations at the main Beirut hotels for the summer, they are already 50 percent booked,” Achkar told The Daily Star. “This means that in the summer we will reach at least 70 percent occupancy but, unless there’s a war in our area, I would say we could even reach a level of 90 percent.”
Seemingly referring to the recent tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Achkar said that a further escalation could mean that especially visitors from the Gulf would be less inclined to choose Lebanon as their summer getaway.
“Don’t forget that, at least in 2006, people were able to leave Lebanon via Syria. Now Syria is closed, so if anything will happen, they will be trapped.”
However, Achkar stressed that he didn’t think it would get this far.
“Some people are worried that these recent tensions will mean Hezbollah will get involved, which would make Lebanon an unsafe place. But I don’t see that happening.”
In fact, Achkar said, if anything he predicts tourism in Lebanon to be booming this summer, something he said is the result of a very conscious effort by the Tourism Ministry in cooperation with leading figures from the entire sector, ranging from hotel owners to travel agencies and everything in between.
“The marketing and communication efforts undertaken by our industry, especially in the last few years, are finally paying off. “Visit Lebanon” has had a huge impact on turning Lebanon back into one of the best travel destinations in terms of food, nightlife and shopping.”
The “Visit Lebanon” International forum is the first international B2B forum organized in Lebanon to promote its leisure tourism and meetings and incentive industry, according to its website.
Organized by the Tourism Ministry, “Visit Lebanon” is scheduled to take place in Beirut May 30-31 and will bring together 150 international tour operators, incentive and event agencies, corporations and associations from all over the world.
In addition to these concerted efforts to attract more tourists, Achkar believes the main reason tourists are being lured back to Lebanon again, is the multifaceted appeal of Lebanon itself combined with the significantly improved security situation: “Tourists love the Orient, they always have. Our country is the best in the area right now, not only because of its ambiance and our way of life, but if you look at popular tourist destinations like Egypt and Turkey, their security situation has gotten worse while ours has improved a lot.”
Although he refrained from making an estimated guess about tourism figures for this summer, Achkar said Lebanon would see an overall growth in tourism this summer of at least 50 percent compared to the summers of 2012 and 2013.
Achkar’s positivity was echoed by Jean Beiruti, head of the Syndicate of Seaside Resort Operators, who predicted a “hot” Lebanese summer when it comes to tourism.
Although Beiruti said it’s still too early to provide any predictions about hotel occupancy in summer, he said that if reservations for Eid, which at this point stand at 70 percent in Beirut, are any indication, Lebanon can look forward to “a hot summer, not only in temperature but also [in terms of] tourism.”
The main reason for Beiruti’s optimism, he says, is that the lifting of the Saudi travel advisory will ensure Gulf tourists will come flocking back, which, he says, is essential for the tourism industry in Lebanon to thrive as they tend to stay for longer periods of time than other visitors.
“The presence of tourists from the Gulf will have a lasting impact on our economy, as they don’t only stay in hotels for longer periods, spend a lot on shopping but are also likely to invest in properties.”
European tourists, the presence of which has become increasingly more visible in Beirut this year, ensured healthy occupancy rates in spring, Beiruti says, and he doesn’t see any reason why this trend wouldn’t continue during summer.
Achkar also noticed a trend of “new” European tourists finding their way to Lebanon, especially from countries with less clear ties to the country, such as the Netherlands and Spain. He said this development is most likely due to recent direct flights being offered from Amsterdam and Madrid. “Another development which was a result of [the people in] our industry working together,” Achkar added.
“We try to make sure they [the tourists] find their way to Lebanon, and Lebanon will make sure they don’t want to leave.”