Eid al-Adha proved to be a promising but short business season for both hotels and restaurants, in Beirut and the mountains, as Arab and foreign tourists were drawn to the country by reasonable prices.
Restaurants, cafes and shops in Beirut’s Central District, which has experienced slow business in the past few months, saw a steady rise in the number of customers during the Eid.
Official statistics issued by the Tourism Ministry Wednesday had shown a 25 percent drop in visitors during the first nine months of 2011, compared to last year, with experts warning turmoil in Syria had immensely affected the sector. But most hotels in the capital and many in the mountains were fully booked during the past five days.
Pierre Achkar, head of hotel owners association, said he had positive expectations for the tourism sector. “We expect the demand on hotel rooms in Beirut to remain high, around 130 percent [of capacity], provided that stability is preserved.” Achkar also said business conferences were a factor in the high demand for hotel rooms. Yet the situation in Syria, he said, did affect the sector with numbers of Jordanian and Saudi Arabian visitors falling.
Tourism outside Beirut remains low, despite some improvement, since Beirut remains the center of tourist activities, Achkar added. The Daily Star interviewed a number of Arab and foreign tourists who were either sipping coffee or having a light meal in some of the restaurants in BCD.
Soner, a Turkish computer engineer, said he was here on an attractive tourist package that had cost him around $300, including airline fees and accommodation. Other travelers from Turkey also said the same.
“Basically, Lebanon is in many ways cheaper [than in Turkey], but certain items like, for instance, souvenirs and gifts were just too expensive for me,” Soner complained.
Walter Sedovic , a New York architect visiting Lebanon for the first time, said he thought prices in Lebanon were very reasonable. “I think it is reasonable on a world-wide scale. I think hotels are not inexpensive but I think you get a nice value, a very nice quality and very nice accommodation overall.” Sedovic said he liked the country so much that he would absolutely invite friends to visit.
Peter Mustardo who is also a New Yorker, working in photograph conservation, said he was visiting the country for the third time. “If you do your homework, you can enjoy Beirut at a very reasonable price,” adding “I am really glad to be here in 2011. I was here in the summer of 2006 and I am really glad to see Beirut alive again and businesses booming.”
Izzeddine Hariri, from Syria, also thought prices were not an issue to complain about. “Even for accommodation, perhaps the most expensive item in a traveler’s budget, you get a broad choice from $80 or lower up to $600. You can visit Lebanon on a small budget. You get the choice,” he said, adding “for instance, when it comes to upmarket clothing, Lebanon is cheaper than Syria.”
Ahmad Abbas, a hip-hop singer and a businessman from Saudi Arabia, thought prices of shopping were similar to his home country. When asked about whether he felt tourist prices were more expensive, Abbas thought the tourist had the choice: “For sure, tourist prices are more expensive. Touristy places are much more expensive but this is a choice you make. You can decide for instance to eat here [at Beirut Central District] or eat at a modest restaurant somewhere else. We have tried both.”
Tim, from Spain, also thought tourists visiting Lebanon have a wide range of choices in how much to spend. “It depends on where you want to stay and how much you intend to pay,” he stressed. But some travelers did note that prices were rising in Lebanon. Mohammad, from Kuwait, said he felt prices were a bit higher than previous times he had visited the country. Still, he said he managed to book a reasonably priced $50-per-night furnished apartment outside the capital. “If prices were lower, we would definitely spend more than just 10 days. But I think prices here are similar to Kuwait,” he said.
Carl, from Germany, and a Lebanese co-traveler, said it was impossible to find accommodation inside Beirut during their brief visit.