Le­banon sees tourism re­bound amid tur­moil

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

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, who was spot­ted smok­ing a wa­ter pipe with three com­pan­ions 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.

And pas­sen­ger ar­rivals at Beirut’s air­port out­num­bered de­par­tures by about 24,000 dur­ing the re­cent Eid Al-Fitr hol­i­day, com­pared to about 19,000 last year, sug­gest­ing trav­el­ers are stay­ing longer, ac­cord­ing to sta­tis­tics from the Civil Avi­a­tion Author­ity. Beirut’s air­port is the only prac­ti­cal way to en­ter and leave the coun­try for all ex­cept Syr­i­ans. In down­town Beirut, Egyp­tians are ask­ing for di­rec­tions for the leafy plaza by Par­lia­ment, kept off lim­its to the Le­banese for more than a year. Politi­cians were afraid the street protests of 2015 would es­ca­late into ri­ots. — AP

BEIRUT: In this June 30, 2017 photo, tourists takes pic­tures as the sun sets over the Mediter­ranean Sea. — AP

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