Tourist numbers in Lebanon still declining
The number of tourists fell 7.9 percent in the first quarter of 2012 compared to last year, according to figures issued by the Central Administration of Statistics over the weekend.
The number of tourists totaled 313,854 in the first quarter, falling from 340,670 in the first quarter of 2011, the report said. The figures carry a particularly negative outlook given that the first quarter of 2011 saw a significant decline from 2010 levels. The Tourism Ministry figures released in April 2011 showed that Lebanon saw a 13 percent drop in tourist arrivals during the first quarter of 2011, compared to the first quarter of 2010.
Analysts and officials say the turmoil across Syria remains a major reason behind the decrease in the number of tourists, as visitors who typically enter Lebanon from Syria have no longer been able to do so. However, despite the lower number of tourists, figures issued by Global Blue, the Value Added Tax refund operator, showed that total spending by tourists increased by 36 percent during the same period.
According to the report, published in Byblos Bank’s weekly newsletter, tourists from Saudi Arabia spent the most while in Lebanon, accounting for 22 percent of all spending. Eighty-six percent of tourist spending was reported in Beirut followed by Metn, Kesrouan and Baabda, which scored 11 percent, 2 percent and 1 percent respectively.
Last week Tourism Minister Fadi Abboud said he was optimistic about the tourism sector’s performance in 2012, predicting Lebanon would see some 3 million visitors by the end of the year. Abboud said higher activity at Rafik Hariri International Airport signaled a recovery in the sector. Activity at Beirut’s international airport increased significantly in the first quarter of 2012 as the number of passengers soared by 21 percent year-on-year to reach 2,242,379, a report issued by the Civil Aviation Authority Thursday showed.
The disparity between the number of tourists and the stronger performance of the airport suggests that Lebanese travelers and expats accounted for the increase in airport activity. According to the CAS report, Arab tourists accounted for 43.2 percent of total visitors in the first three months of 2012.
Europeans came second accounting for 28 percent of tourists. Visitors from the Americas came third with 11.3 percent and Asians were 10.8 percent. Africans accounted for 4.4 percent of tourists. The number of African tourists increased 25.4 percent in the first quarter of 2012 while the number of Arab tourists increased by 19 percent. The number of Asian tourists dropped a whopping 60 percent.
The total number of tourists who entered the country in March fell by 11.22 percent to 135,691 compared to the same period last year. The number of tourists had declined 24 percent in 2011 compared to 2010 levels.