Beirut's trash protests stink for hotels too

Published October 12th, 2015 - 10:03 GMT
Beirut protests and clashes have recently deterred many tourists from visiting the city. (Al Bawaba)
Beirut protests and clashes have recently deterred many tourists from visiting the city. (Al Bawaba)

The anti-government protests in Downtown Beirut and the sharp decline in the number of tourists are forcing the closure of Markazia hotel permanently at the end of this year, said the manager of the hotel. “I have decided to close the hotel which we are managing. We can’t cope with the ridiculous situation in downtown,” Pierre Ashkar, who is also the head of the Hotel Owners Association, told The Daily Star.

Ashkar mainly blamed the weekly anti-government protests, which have gravely affected the entire business community in downtown.

Most government buildings, including the Grand Serail and the Parliament, are located in the area.

The civil movements and NGOs took to the streets two months ago following the government’s failure to find a solution to the trash crisis.

These protests turned violent as some demonstrators clashed with the security forces.

Ashkar, who owns Monroe and Printania Palace hotels, is running the Markazia hotel under a contract with the owners of the building.

“We have suffered heavy losses as a result of these events in Lebanon, let alone the sharp decline in the number of tourists,” he added.

Ashkar said the room occupancy at the hotel fell dramatically in the wake of protests.

“Most of our guests are businessmen and high-caliber individuals. They usually stay at this hotel for a short period so they can go straight to the airport. How can you serve them properly if the roads are closed most of the time?” he asked.

Ashkar explained that his other hotels in Beirut and Mount Lebanon have also seen a big drop in the number of visitors.

“We have slashed our prices between 50 to 60 percent and despite these big cuts, we were unable to attract enough visitors.”

Ashkar stressed that 85 employees at Markazia will lose their jobs.

“But I am not worried about them. Experienced hotel employees are in big demand the Arab Gulf States and Africa. I am sure they will find good offers abroad. But we will lose these experienced employees unfortunately,” he lamented.

Ashkar also expressed skepticism about the number of tourists visiting Lebanon. “They say that Lebanon receives around 2 million visitors each year. It seems that most of these visitors are from Iraq, Jordan and Egypt and they only spend few days in Lebanon,” he said.

Ashkar revealed that Iranian officials and businesspersons approached him several times to persuade him to run some of the hotels in Iran following the nuclear agreement with the superpowers.

“I am seriously considering these offers by the Iranians. It’s petty that other countries appreciate the hotel owners more than our country.”

However, not all hotels in the Downtown area are feeling the grave effects of the protests.

Le Gray Hotel, which was the scene of clashes between riot police and protesters last week, said that business is still as usual.

“We did not see a big fall in the number of visitors. As a matter of fact, our hotel plans to expand the size of the building very soon to accommodate more people,” an employee told The Daily Star.

He added that most of the visitors at Le Gray were visiting government officials and businessmen who attend conferences in Beirut,” the employee said.

He added that the hotel is not concerned by the anti-government protests in the area.

“The security forces removed the concrete blocks near the hotel the second day after the protests. Only a few of our guests moved to other hotels during the day of clashes between the security forces and protesters,” the employee added.

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