Syria's loss is Lebanon's gain as tourism sector gets a boost

Published July 23rd, 2012 - 07:49 GMT
Occupancy rates are much higher, especially in Ramadan
Occupancy rates are much higher, especially in Ramadan

The old saying “one man’s misery is another man’s fortune” has proven true in recent days for Lebanon, where Syrians are seeking refuge as the security situation further deteriorates in their homeland.

Occupancy rates in hotel and furnished apartments have surged after thousands of well-off Syrians flocked to the towns of Bhamdoun and Aley, less than a two-hour drive from the violence-stricken Syrian capital.

The majority of Bhamdoun and Aley hotels contacted by The Daily Star reported a significantly higher occupancy rate over the last several days.

“Occupancy rates are much higher than what we would have expected, especially in Ramadan. We are seeing between 40 and 50 percent [of hotel rooms] occupied by Syrian citizens,” a reservation officer at the Four Points Sheraton in Bhamdoun told The Daily Star.

Pierre Achkar, head of the Hotel Owners Association, which keeps track of occupancy rates, agreed that areas in Mount Lebanon have seen around a 30 percent increase in occupancy rates. Occupancy at Beirut hotels, he added, has seen an increase of 15 to 20 percent. But Achkar said hotels were not charging full prices, adding that in most cases significant discounts of up to 50 percent were being offered to Syrian clients.

About 10,000 Syrians crossed into Lebanon Saturday through Lebanon’s main border crossing in Masnaa. The influx came days after a record 30,000 entered the country in the wake of heavy fighting in several neighborhoods in and around Damascus.

The state-run National News Agency reported Saturday that most hotels in the towns of Bhamdoun and Aley are seeing high occupancy rates. It said the majority of refugees have crossed over to Lebanon in their cars.

At Shalabi Hotel in Aley, a reservation officer reported that the hotel was 60 percent booked by Syrian refugees from Damascus. In Beirut, the majority of Syrian refugees opted for larger and more affordable furnished apartments, a survey of some of the capital’s hotels by The Daily Star showed.

At Coral Suites, reservation officers said over 80 percent of guests were Syrians who arrived last week. The employee said that occupancy is running at around 50 percent – much higher than what the hotel had expected for this time of year.

Gefinor Rotana hotel reported an inflow of Western journalists reporting on Syria but added that it had not seen a significant number of Syrian families escaping violence.

In comparison, receptionists at White Tower in Beirut’s Hamra district said around 30 percent of rooms were occupied by Syrian nationals. In the Bekaa, hotels contacted by the paper said they were seeing a moderate number of Syrian guests.

“We currently have around six rooms occupied by Syrian citizens,” said a manager at the Anjar Waterfalls Hotel. She added that the first two days following the outbreak of violence in Damascus saw higher occupancy rates at the hotel. “Many of those who stayed at the hotel for the first few days have now moved to apartments that they rented in the Bekaa or other areas.”

Achkar said the higher occupancy does not reflect a revival of Lebanon’s summer tourism season. “We are talking about people who are fleeing violence and whenever things return to normal or stabilize they will be heading home.”

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