Lebanon’s ailing economy is expected to receive a badly needed “positive shock” if newly appointed Prime Minister-designate Tamam Salam brings about a balanced Cabinet that above all tackles security, business leaders said over the weekend. “This is a very positive shock for the Lebanese economy and in particular to tourism ,” Pierre Achkar, the head of the Hotels Association, told The Daily Star over the phone. “The way he was elected is a very positive sign given the wide consensus among different factions to name Salam.”
Achkar had repeatedly rung the alarm bells about the decline in tourism, particularly following a series of kidnappings that led most Gulf Cooperation Council states to issue travel warnings effectively barring their citizens from visiting Lebanon.
Over the first three month of 2013, the decline in the hotel business stood at a massive 30 percent in occupancy and revenues, Achkar noted, adding that drawing comparisons with 2011 and 2010 would show a more than 50 percent decline in the sector.
“The past year and a half were disastrous to Lebanese tourism ,” he said. “We badly need a Cabinet that talks to everyone, clamps down on kidnappings and reduces political bickering.”
Achkar urged Salam to form a unifying Cabinet that above all brings Lebanese factions to an agreement similar to the Doha Agreement that ended bloody sectarian clashes that broke out in May 2008.
“We need something of the magnitude of the Doha Agreement and in Lebanon this is fully plausible. On May 7, 2008, there were gunfights all over Beirut and one week later, tourists were flocking back after the agreement,” he said.
“Lebanon can truly save the [tourism ] summer season if the right steps are taken.”
Saving the summer season is also a high priority for Mohammad Choukeir, head of the Chambers of Commerce.
“Lebanon depends on the summer season for around 40 percent of its gross domestic product. Safeguarding the season should be a major concern for the new Cabinet,” he said.
Improving Lebanon’s economic relations with GCC countries is very important, Choukeir said, echoing Achkar’s aspirations.
“The Cabinet should be able to have both the local and international political covers needed to boost the economy. I believe ... Salam is fully capable of doing so,” he said.
Choukeir added that the Cabinet should focus on luring back foreign investors, who largely abandoned Lebanon over the past two years.
“[Salam’s Cabinet] should focus on the socioeconomic file, even if [the Cabinet’s duration will be short]. All the sectors of the Lebanese economy are struggling and require very urgent action,” he said.