North Lebanon’s volatile security conditions  could threaten the country’s peak tourist season as hotels started to report cancellations Sunday, only one day after three Arab Gulf States warned citizens against vacationing in Beirut .
All except one of several hotels contacted by The Daily Star admitted that they have started to see cancellations since last week, when clashes started in Tripoli, Lebanon’s second-biggest city.
While some hotels reported that only a handful of clients have cancelled so far, others said they have already seen cancellations as high as 30 percent. Many hotels admitted seeing cancellations but refused to provide numbers, citing confidentiality issues.
A staff member at Monroe Hotel, located on the seaside of the Beirut Central District, told The Daily Star that cancellations have ranged from 25 to 30 percent of all reservations since the clashes started last week.
“Today alone we received a cancellation request for a 50-person tourist group,” said a reservation desk employee at the hotel.
The reservation desk of the Commodore Hotel in Hamra said their cancellations amounted to the equivalent of 50 nights of rooms. “The figure stands between 5 and 10 percent of all reservations,” the employee said, adding that the majority of cancellations came from citizens of Gulf Cooperation Council states.
The employee noted that many Arab and Western countries are taking measures to prevent citizens from visiting Lebanon because of security conditions. Staff at Sheraton Four Points, a four-star Sheraton hotel in Verdun, reported that some 11 percent of bookings were cancelled since the fighting in Tripoli started.
The employee added that Sunday saw many GCC citizens cancelling reservations based on warnings issued by their respective countries.
The cancellations followed statements issued by the UAE, Qatar and Bahrain Saturday. The three countries called on their citizens to avoid travel to Lebanon and asked for those in the country to depart given the tense security situation.
The situation was only slightly better at Phoenicia and Habtoor Grand, two of the capital’s biggest hotels, where reservation desk staff said they have seen cancellations at a rate of around 5 percent each.
But staff at the two hotels said they expected more cancellations to follow next week, as many travel agencies were closed Sunday. Last week armed clashes between the rival neighborhoods of Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen in Tripoli claimed the lives of 11 people.
The Lebanese Army, which deployed to the area Tuesday, brought an end to the fighting and imposed a truce. But security across north Lebanon deteriorated Sunday when two Muslim preachers were killed in Akkar.
The events raised questions on whether Lebanon would be able to attract the number of tourists and expats that it usually expects this time of year. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, Lebanon depends on tourism for 10 percent of its GDP, equivalent to around $4.3 billion.
Ernst & Young’s benchmark survey of the Middle East hotel sector indicated last month that the average occupancy rate at hotels in Beirut increased to 66 percent in the first quarter of 2012 compared to 47 percent in the same quarter last year.
The stronger figures had suggested recovery from 2011 slump, when turmoil across neighboring Syria and other Arab countries took a heavy toll on the tourism sector. Tourism Minister Fadi Abboud earlier called on the authorities to contain the clashes in the north, warning that further escalation would harm summer tourism.