Lebanon’s Tourists to top 1 million

For the first time in nearly 20 years, Lebanon will receive more than 1 million tourists before the end of 2003, marking a rebirth of the country’s tourism industry. According to statistics from the Tourism Ministry, the only years the country exceeded the 1 million mark were in 1972 1,028,798 tourists and 1974 1,423,950 tourists. “We will surely reach it,” said the director-general of the Tourism Ministry, Nada Sardouk. “And it will mark the resurrection of Lebanon’s tourism industy. The number of tourists in 2002 reached 956,464 and as such only a 4.5 percent increase is required to reach the 1 million mark. Lebanon, for the first nine months of 2003, was able to attract 5.6 percent more tourists compared to the same period last year, which reached 818,554 tourists.

Thus, if no other regional catastrophes would occur, “Lebanon will definitely attract 1 million tourists and more,” Sardouk said. According to the director-general, hotel reservations for Eid al-Fitr, Christmas and New Year holidays were extremely good and promising. “Hotel reservations in Beirut for these holidays are well above 85 percent and this is why we are certain that we will exceed the one million mark,” she added. Such growth came following the US-led war on Iraq, although initially it seriously hit the region’s tourism industry, including Lebanon’s. During the month of March of this year when the coalition forces threatened former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s regime tourist arrivals dropped by 32 percent, according to the Tourism Ministry statistics.

The statistics also showed that the months of July, August and September witnessed a surprising increase of 8 percent, 23 percent and 18 percent respectively. “We were able to see such substantial increases mainly because more Arabs and Europeans have come and some 40 international conferences were held in Beirut,” said Sardouk. The statistics also revealed that Arab tourists represented the majority of arrivals at 45 percent up by approximately 4 percent. European tourists accounted for 24 percent up by approximately 6 percent, while Asian tourists made up 13 percent of the total up by approximately 5 percent.

“We also invited over 250 journalists until today to report on the country’s tourism sector and future potential, compared with a total of 50 last year,” she added. Such a low-cost yet efficient marketing medium has left its marks on the sector. In two different Newsweek issues in October, the prominent international magazine classified Beirut as one of the top 12 “Capitals of Style” and as one of the best places in the world to visit for the New Year. However, the president of the Lebanese Hotel Association, Pierre Achkar, said that even though this would definitely boost the morale of the tourism industry, much more has to be done. “We need to erase the effect known as ‘seasonality’ and we need to find a way to spread the tourists all across the country.” He added: “We also need to start attracting many more Eastern European tourists.”

By Tarek El Zein

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