Gulf countries started issuing travel warnings to Lebanon last year as violence trickled across the border, and Lebanese officials are aware that their most important tourist market won’t return until a sense of security is restored.
Tourism in Lebanon has dropped 13 percent this year, weakened by travel warnings and spillover from the civil war in neighboring Syria, caretaker Tourism Minister Fadi Abboud said.
Tourism had already contracted by 20 percent in 2012, Abboud said today in a telephone interview. The sector made up 22 percent of GDP in 2010 and dropped to 19 percent last year, he said. The figures include real estate foreigners bought for personal use.
“Tourism is directly tied to stability in the security situation,” he said. “I’m not expecting anything better” than last year.
The two-year-old uprising against Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has fed sectarian conflict in Lebanon from the start. Assad’s supporters and opponents have clashed mainly in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, where 30 people died in fighting that began last week, the Daily Star newspaper said today.
In other violence this week, three Lebanese soldiers were killed in a drive-by shooting, and at least four people were injured when rockets slammed into a stronghold off the Lebanese militant Hezbollah group, hours after its leader declared he could mobilize thousands of fighters to help Syria’s rulers.
Gulf tourists largely shunned Lebanon last summer after their countries warned them against travel to the country. This year, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait have issued similar warnings. Gulf nationals ordinarily make up 40 percent of tourists and account for 60 percent of tourism spending, Abboud said.
Abboud urged Gulf countries to look at the situation in Lebanon “realistically.” Lebanon, he said, is “fully ready to receive tourists.”
Editors: Amy Teibel and Ben Holland.
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Photo credit: A mosque at the end of an empty street in Lebanon. Côte d’Azur / Flickr