Political tensions putting Lebanese hospitality sector at risk: industry leaders

Published October 21st, 2015 - 02:57 GMT

Hotel and restaurant owners Tuesday warned that more businesses will eventually close down and hundreds of hospitality workers could lose their jobs if the political stalemate and regional tensions did not come to an end soon.

“In the name of tourism, hotel and restaurant owners, nightclubs, travel agencies and car-rental companies, I call on politicians to end their indifference and laxity about the fate of companies and the future of our youths,” Pierre Ashkar, the head of Hotel Owners Association, told reporters at a press conference.

The press conference was aimed at reminding the political class about the grave economic situation and the sharp fall in the number of tourists.

The volume of business in most hotels and restaurants in Beirut and the mountains has fallen dramatically over the past three years as a result of the political impasse, failure to elect a president and economic slowdown.

Business leaders have repeatedly urged the government and the main political parties to cast aside their differences and find quick solutions to stimulate the economy.

But all these calls have fallen on deaf ears.

Ashkar slammed Lebanon’s politicians, describing them as being in a “deep coma.”

“We have lost all the Arab Gulf tourists as well as a big number of Iranian and Jordanian visitors. Investments in hotels these days are almost non-existent,” he said.

Citing some figures, Ashkar said that dozens, if not hundreds, of restaurants have closed permanently and those who remain open are struggling to survive.

He gave the example of Downtown Beirut, which has recently been the scene of clashes between anti-government protestors and security forces. These protests were seen as the final nail in the coffin of Downtown Beirut.

“Nearly half of the rooms in most hotels in Lebanon have been closed down and their rooms are locked. This is only the beginning,” Ashkar said.

Last week Ashkar told The Daily Star that the protests in Downtown and the sharp decline in the number of tourists are forcing the closure of the Markazia Monroe Suites hotel permanently at the end of this year.

“I have decided to close the hotel which we are managing. We can’t cope with the ridiculous situation in Downtown,” Ashkar, who is the hotel’s manager, said at the time.

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.

He added that more than 100 car rental agencies have closed down since the crisis in Lebanon broke out, noting that the fleet of rented cars fell from 16,000 to around 8,000.

Ashkar revealed that the number of workers in the hospitality sector in Lebanon has fallen from 130,000 to around 100,000 only.

He urged the Central Bank’s governor, Riad Salameh, to provide the hotels and restaurants easy and long-term credit facilities to save the sector.

The hotel and restaurant owners also appealed to civil society groups and NGOs to end the protests in Downtown.

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