Jordan’s hotels are fully booked for Eid, but not everyone is seeing business boom

Published July 15th, 2015 - 04:02 GMT

With the month of Ramadan approaching its final days, many hotels are putting aside any hopes they might have had for a busy Eid holiday.

Head of the Hotel Owners Association Pierre Ashkar said hotels depend on bookings after Ramadan to compensate for a slump in occupancy during the holy month, but added that a rebound was not expected this year.

“We had full solid room bookings in most hotels a few years ago. But I am sorry to say that we don’t expect more than 60-70 percent booking during the Eid,” Ashkar told the Central News Agency.

Typically, the month of Ramadan sees a dip in hotel occupancy rates as conferences and work in the region slow in pace, Ayman Nasser el-Dine, operations manager at Beirut’s Hotel Cavalier, explained.

But unlike past years, this Eid al-Fitr might not be the saving grace for hotels that it typically tends to be.

Most of the hotel managers interviewed by The Daily Star reported low occupancy rates and reservations, attributing the slump to the political, security and economic situation in Lebanon.

As of Thursday, and with under a week left before the first day of Eid, occupancy rates at Hotel Cavalier had not exceeded 60-70 percent, whereas previous years would have been fully booked by this time, Nasser el-Dine said.

Antonio Sakr, the operations manager at Printania Palace Hotel in Broummana, said occupancy for the Eid holiday was expected to be around 40 percent. He attributed the low occupancy rate to the Lebanese political situation.

He said this year has not been like years past — generally, during the duration of the summer the hotel’s rooms are 70-80 percent booked with the potential to reach 100 percent.

Rana Sakaya, a front office manager at a four-star Beirut hotel, said the political situation has been a hindrance to tourism. “There were a lot of cancellations yesterday for the season,” Sakaya said, adding that guests were re-evaluating travel plans after Thursday’s protest by the Free Patriotic Movement in Downtown Beirut. “[Guests always] call and ask, ‘Do I come?’ People are scared to come.”

She also blamed the low turnout this year on the increasing prices in Lebanon. Hotel guests tell Sakaya that they can go to other countries, such as Turkey, and spend a quarter of what they spend in Lebanon.

Several sources mentioned the Gulf Corporation Council’s travel advisory to Lebanon as one of the causes of low occupancy rates this year. Hotels in Lebanon have seen fewer and fewer GCC nationals booking hotel rooms since the advisories were issued in 2012.

Maya Hobeika, senior sales manager at Le Gray Hotel, acknowledged that the GCC advisories had affected Gulf tourism, but said Le Gray was witnessing a relatively normal season with an anticipated 70-80 percent occupancy rate for Eid.

Hobeika said Le Gray’s business does not significantly depend on guests from the Gulf, because the hotel attracts many European and corporate guests who have business dealings or events in the country.

This upcoming Eid, Hotel Cavalier’s anticipated guests are mostly non-UAE nationals residing in the UAE, Nasser al-Dine said.

A lower-than-expected 20 percent of the bookings were made by Syrians and around 2 percent of the hotel bookings were made by GCC nationals. There was a weak Jordanian and Egyptian turnout as well, to the disappointment of the hotel’s managers. The hotel guests also include some Lebanese expatriates visiting during the summer.

Sakaya, on the other hand, said that around half of the bookings she is taking during the summer season are made by Iraqis coming to Lebanon to seek medical care. She said other guests include mostly Syrians, as well as Iraqis taking advantage of the low-season prices.

Lebanon’s hotels had hoped to witness a peak in the post-Ramadan period and during the month of August, but according to Nasser el-Dine, several hotels are not implementing peak-season prices for the post-Ramadan period due to the low occupancy rates.

“Overall the situation is not good. It’s more than not good — it’s unacceptable,” Nasser el-Dine said. “We used to advertise our rooms at a rate of $150 per night during the high season and now it is $120 per night on average.”

Sakaya echoed the same concerns as Nasser el-Dine. “This is happening with all hotels ... where occupancy is almost zero, you have to cut prices and give promotions ... book two days, get a dinner free [and so on] ... All the hotels are running after people, asking people to please come.”

Nasser el-Dine said that even though many hotels had expected reservations to slow during Ramadan, this year’s occupancy rates were 5-10 percent lower than during the holy month last year.

But not all hotels said that business was bad ahead. A source at Le Commodore said the hotel had not been forced to lower prices ahead of the holiday and was expecting an average turnout.

The source said it was normal to see fewer rooms booked during Ramadan as people are fasting and tend to stay in their home countries.

But Sakr said Printania Palace Hotel saw an occupancy rate of just 20 percent during Ramadan, as fewer people were taking vacations in Broummana this year.

Despite acknowledging the situation during Ramadan in several of the hotels around Lebanon, Sakaya was pleasantly surprised with an occupancy rate of 30-50 percent.

Le Gray saw occupancy at 50-60 percent during Ramadan, with it reaching 80-100 percent at some points, according to Hobeika. She said the high turnout was due to corporate and European guests who still come during Ramadan.

When asked about the prospects for the period following Ramadan and Eid, Nasser el-Dine predicted that despite the situation being unclear, the occupancy rate at Hotel Cavalier would likely increase by 20-25 percent from the Ramadan occupancy rate – back to what it was between March and May.

But Sakr was not as hopeful. He expects Printania Palace Hotel’s occupancy to remain steady at 40 percent.

Others, such as Sakaya and the source at Le Commodore Hotel, don’t know what to expect after the Eid holiday passes. The latter explained that hotels do not necessarily have established high and low seasons in Lebanon.

“It really depends on the political, security and economic issues that are affecting all hotels.”

By Maryam Hoballah


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