Tourists in Lebanon run for the hills as trash crisis, protests continue

Published August 27th, 2015 - 01:02 GMT
One out of five people planning to stay at Le Grey Hotel in Beirut canceled reservations due to street riots and security concerns. (AFP/File)
One out of five people planning to stay at Le Grey Hotel in Beirut canceled reservations due to street riots and security concerns. (AFP/File)

Street riots and the absence of Arab tourists dashed any remaining hope for the revival of the tourism season as many hotels reported a large number of room cancelations.

“Around 20 percent of reservations at Le Grey Hotel were canceled following the protests staged outside the Grand Serail,” said Hilal Saade, director of sales and marketing at Le Grey Hotel.

Located at the heart of Beirut Central District, which was the main scene of clashes between security forces and protesters demanding the removal of the government, Le Grey Hotel was inevitably effected. “Some tourists called to cancel their reservations, especially because our hotel appeared many times on television while broadcasting these protests on satellite channels,” Saade said.

Saade added that one of their guests even moved to the Holiday Inn to guarantee that he would not be stuck in Downtown and miss his flight the day after.

Saade said the hotel was planning to host an engagement party Sunday but it was called off due to the deteriorating situation in the area. “We had to give back a full refund to our client because the recent events fall under force majeure,” he added.

Likewise, Toni Rami, president of the syndicate of restaurants owners, said that restaurants and hotels are suffering tremendously from the current protests.

“There has been absolutely no activity in restaurants and shops in this area for the past three days,” he said. “People working in the tourism sector are desperate nowadays,” he added.

Anti-government demonstrations prompted three Gulf countries to issue travel advisory warning to Lebanon over the weekend.

Bahrain Monday called on its citizens to leave Lebanon immediately and avoid traveling there in the near future “out of its keenness for their security and safety.”

The Kuwaiti Embassy called on its nationals to remain vigilant at all times, while Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry urged all Saudi citizens in Lebanon to exercise caution and to register with the embassy.

However, hotels interviewed by The Daily Star said there are already very few nationals from the Gulf staying in the hotels. “The percentage of reservations by Gulf people does not exceed 1 percent or 2 percent,” said Mohammad Kanaan, director of sales and marketing at Golden Tulip Hotel in Hamra.

“Even if these countries did not issue any travel warnings, when tourists watch these protests on satellite they will definitely not be encouraged to come to Lebanon,” he said.

Kanaan’s remarks were echoed by Ayman Nasreddine, sales manager at Hotel Cavalier, who said that visitors from the Gulf did not exceed 2 percent even before the recent events.

“Most of our visitors come from Iraq, Syria and Egypt,” Nasreddine said. “We saw a lot of Lebanese expats as well,” he added.

Nasreddine attributed the drop in occupancy in the past three days to the fact that the summer vacation has finished.

“I don’t think that people left due to the protests but schools in Arab countries will open their doors soon and visitors had to leave anyway,” he said.

Jean Beyrouti, head of the Touristic Federation, agrees that hotels succeeded in maintaining their reservations, and the drop is not due to the protests. “Visitors will normally go back to their countries because it is the end of the summer vacation in most of the Arab world,” he said.

He added that people are still attending festivals in other parts of the country.

“Concerts are being attended by over 4,000 people every night,” Beyrouti said.

Hotels interviewed by The Daily Star said that their occupancy rate during Eid al-Fitr and up until before the recent protests reached 80 percent.

“We were doing really well but protests led to a drop in our occupancy by 10 percent,” Kanaan said.

He added that the hotel should have maintained its 80 percent occupancy rate until mid-September if it wasn’t for the recent events.

Hotels also told The Daily Star that they cannot predict how the activity will be during Al-Adha holiday. “There is some demand for rooms by Egyptians for Al-Adha holiday but it is too early to specify a rate of occupancy,” Nasreddine said.

Beyrouti expressed hope that the standoff between the government and protesters will end soon and this will revive the tourism sector.

By Dana Halawi

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