Skift Take

For once unrest in the region hasn't spilled over to fighting in Beirut, but it seems that even good news like higher hotel occupancy isn't actually correct. What does the city have to do to catch a break?

Head of Lebanon’s hotel owners said Sunday that hotels in Beirut and Mount Lebanon have seen one of the lowest room occupancy in many years, despite a report by Ernst & Young that claimed otherwise.

“I think that Ernst & Young has surveyed a handful of five star hotels in the first six months of this year and compared them to the same period of 2011. The first six months of 2011 was actually very bad and for this reason it’s not fair to compare it with the first six months of this year,” said Pierre Achkar, hotel owner and president of the Lebanese Hotel Association.

He added tourism prospects remain very bleak, particularly outside Beirut.

The report titled “Middle East Hotel Benchmark Survey” said occupancy at Beirut hotels soared to an average of 65 percent, up 11 percent from 54 percent in the first half of last year.

The survey, which provides a monthly overview of leading hotels in Middle Eastern capitals, said room yields climbed to $135, up 21 percent from $112 during the same period in 2011.

The average rate for a higher-end hotel room remained at $207, the same as last year, the report said.

The survey focuses on internationally branded, five-star and four-star hotels inside Beirut. For this, Achkar said the survey fails to capture the whole picture.

“The survey is selective and reflects only a minority of hotels in Beirut,” Achkar said.

“Even if it is true that these hotels achieved better results, it reflects improvement from 2011, which was a very bad year.

“Even if there’s improvement, the situation remains disastrous,” he added.

He said major hotels, particularly outside of the capital, are offering 50-to-70 percent discounts in a bid to lure in more visitors.

“That is also having a big impact on the hotel industry,” he said.

While occupancy rates in Beirut remained somewhat stable in the first half of 2012 as business and conference tourism persisted, occupancy rates at hotels in other parts of the country suffered.

Earlier, Achkar told Reuters that hotels outside Beirut lost 50 percent of their occupancy in the first half of the year.

Asked whether Syrian nationals still contributed to higher hotel occupancy, Achkar said most either went back home or moved to furnished apartments after spending one week at the country’s hotels.

The stronger performance of Beirut’s high-end hotels came in spite of a sustained sharp decline in the number of tourists entering Lebanon, particularly after several Arab Gulf states issued travel warnings urging citizens not to visit the country.

The total number of tourists who visited Lebanon during the first half of 2012 fell by around 8 percent from 774,214 in that same period of 2011. From 2010, which saw 964,067 tourists in its first half, the decline exceeds 25 percent in two years.

In remarks published by the United Arab Emirates-based The National, Khalaf al-Habtoor, the head of Al-Habtoor Group, said his five-star hotels in Lebanon are operating at a loss.

Lower occupancy rates are no longer offsetting costs, Habtoor said. He also said he had no plans to reopen a $40 million amusement park that the group closed down back in 2005.

In addition to his deep concern stemming from the effect of regional troubles on the tourism sector, Achkar is disheartened at the unprecedented deterioration in public services, particularly electricity.

“Some of the hotels in Mount Lebanon are getting no more than 4 hours of electricity. Let them [politicians] just give us electricity and let us deal with our problems,” he said.

He added that most of the Arab Gulf nationals have refrained from coming to Lebanon this summer due to the tense situation in Syria. “Some of the Arab tourists used to come to Lebanon four to five times a year but now we hardly can find Arabs spending summer vacation in Lebanon,” Achkar said.

Conferences in Beirut have helped hotels to some extent, he said, but most of the business visitors refuse to bring their families with them.

(c)2012 The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon). Distributed by MCT Information Services.


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