Tourism re­bounds in Le­banon as tur­moil swal­lows re­gion

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD -

BEIRUT — Beirut’s land­mark Hamra Street is bustling again and ho­tel oc­cu­pancy rates are on the rise as Le­banon’s tourism in­dus­try re­bounds, thanks in no small part to the mis­for­tunes of its Mid­dle East neigh­bors, en­gulfed by wars, chaos and po­lit­i­cal up­heaval.

It was just four years ago when Le­banon seemed to be los­ing its grip on its in­ter­nal se­cu­rity. The specter of war spilling over from neigh­bor­ing Syria hung low over the cap­i­tal and Le­banese pro­pri­etors looked long­ingly to the sta­bil­ity in Turkey and the Gulf re­gion.

But now, Le­banon’s tourism sec­tor is on the rise as the Gulf and Turkey, to the sur­prise of many, are look­ing shaky. While neigh­bor­ing Syria and Iraq burn, the Le­banese in­dus­try is look­ing cau­tiously but op­ti­misti­cally at the prom­ise of a new be­gin­ning.

“I know the re­gion is go­ing through very dif­fi­cult times, but Le­banon has got­ten lucky,” said Tourism Min­is­ter Avedis Guida­nian.

Since last year’s dol­drums dur­ing the sum­mer tourist sea­son, Le­banon’s no­to­ri­ously slow-mov­ing and di­vided politi­cians have got­ten it to­gether to ap­point a head of state after a two-year pres­i­den­tial vac­uum, form a govern­ment, and agree to a law gov­ern­ing elec­tions that has made pos­si­ble par­lia­men­tary elec­tions that were de­layed since 2013.

A spate of sui­cide bomb­ings has been con­tained and mil­i­tants have been pushed back, to a large ex­tent, across the bor­der with Syria.

Au­thor­i­ties have also beaten back pop­u­lar un­rest over cor­rup­tion and non-ac­count­abil­ity and restarted trash col­lec­tion ser­vices in the cap­i­tal, though the pun­gent smell of waste still greets trav­el­ers at the air­port, thanks to a new land­fill the govern­ment opened in a hurry just be­yond the sea­side run­way.

“Re­ally, us Iraqis, we thank you, and we are al­ways lucky to be among the Le­banese peo­ple,” said ve­teri­nar­ian and Basra na­tive Ali Ab­dul Ka­reem, 24, at a restau­rant off Hamra Street.

He said it was his first time visit­ing Le­banon, break­ing a string of suc­ces­sive va­ca­tions in Iran and the United Arab Emi­rates.

“God will­ing, this won’t be the only time we come to Beirut and Le­banon,” he said.

Ho­tel oc­cu­pancy in Le­banon, which went through 15 years of civil war that ended in 1990, is up by 25 per­cent com­pared to the same pe­riod last year, ac­cord­ing to the pres­i­dent of the na­tional ho­tel own­ers’ syn­di­cate, Pierre Ashkar, reach­ing 65 per­cent this sum­mer.

How­ever, tourism has not yet reached the heights of the pre-Syria war era, or of the golden decades of the 1950s and 60s.

“If we were to say, what do we as­pire to, and what are we ca­pa­ble of in light of what’s hap­pen­ing in Egypt, Turkey, and Arab coun­tries, and in France and Europe be­cause of the ter­ror­ism we should be do­ing much bet­ter,” said Ashkar.

HAS­SAN AMMAR / AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Tourists takes pic­tures in Beirut, Le­banon, which is en­joy­ing a rise in tourism due to un­rest and up­heaval else­where in the Mid­dle East.

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