Lebanon gears up for Gulf tourist boom

Aerial view of the Pigeons’ Rocks on Raouche. (Shutterstock)
Updated 17 May 2019

Lebanon gears up for Gulf tourist boom

  • Saudi Arabia released $1 billion in funding to boost Lebanon’s economy

BEIRUT: Lebanon is gearing up for an influx of tourists from the Gulf, especially from Saudi Arabia, since it lifted a warning against its citizens traveling to the country.

The easing of restrictions since February, together with the formation of a new government in Beirut and greater political stability, has led to around 20,000 Saudis visiting Lebanon in the past few months.

Rima, from Riyadh, said she used to visit Lebanon before the start of Ramadan for tourism and shopping. She told Arab News that the end of the travel warning would encourage other Saudis to visit Lebanon and that the country meant a lot to her fellow citizens.

Her mother said that Ramadan would be spent in Riyadh, but that they would return after the Eid Al-Fitr holidays in June.

Thousands of Saudis have already booked their flights to Lebanon during Ramadan and these numbers were rising, Saudi travel agencies told Arab News.

“With the ban on Saudi travel to Lebanon, out of 100 passengers you could barely find three Saudi nationals maximum on flights heading from Riyadh to Beirut. However, that number has risen steadily since the ban was lifted,” sources told Arab News.

Pierre Al-Achkar, head of the Syndicate of Hotel Owners in Lebanon, said Gulf tourist numbers had improved compared to previous years. “Hotel bookings for Eid Al-Fitr are not quite clear, as Gulf tourists plan their vacation just 10 days ahead unlike Europeans who plan months before their vacation,” he told Arab News. “Before Ramadan, Lebanon hosted a tourist delegation of Saudi businesswomen, some of whom work in the marketing and media sectors. They were amazed, comparing Lebanon to Europe.”

Nora, a Saudi young woman on her third visit to the Middle Eastern country, explained why she liked Lebanon. “It is an Arab country and a melting pot for Arabic and European civilizations, which sets it apart from other modern places such as Dubai and New York,” she told Arab News.

She also said she preferred Riyadh’s “broad and straight” roads to Beirut’s “narrow and winding streets,” when asked about driving on holiday.

Cafe in central Beirut. (Shutterstock)

More people have visited Lebanon since Saudi Arabia lifted its travel warning in February, Reuters quoted Prime Minister Saad Hariri as saying last month, as he pointed to a “promising summer” ahead.

Saudi Arabia had been advising its citizens since 2011 to avoid Lebanon, citing Hezbollah’s influence and instability from the war in neighboring Syria, the agency added.

“Without doubt the Saudi leadership’s decision ... had the most impact in increasing the number of visitors to Lebanon recently, which gives the best proof of a promising summer,” Hariri said at an April conference in Beirut that was also attended by the head of the King Salman Humanitarian Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center.

Riyadh earlier this year released $1 billion in funding, pledging to boost Lebanon’s struggling economy. Another sign of warming ties was an anniversary event marking the 2005 assassination of Hariri’s father that featured Saudi Royal Court adviser Nizar Al-Aloula as a keynote speaker.

Umm Yusuf was visiting Lebanon after previous tourism stops in London and Istanbul. She said her family had not traveled to Lebanon since 2006, when there was a war between Israel and Hezbollah.

Her husband said Ramadan would be spent in Saudi Arabia “to feel the meaning of fasting” and that they would return to Lebanon after Eid-Al Fitr.

Jean Abboud, president of the Association of Travel And Tourist Agents in Lebanon, said that 2010 was the strongest year for tourism and that there had been around 190,000 visitors from the Gulf.

Lebanese authorities were expecting to get close to that number and maybe even exceed it after Eid Al-Fitr and during the long summer vacation, he said, adding that Gulf holidaymakers were no longer traveling overland because of the Syrian war.

“We are now relying on the tourist traveling by air, although this type of travel costs higher,” he told Arab News. “Iraqi, Jordanian and Egyptian tourists replaced Gulf tourists. But, in terms of spending, they are not to be compared. The Gulf tourist spends between $3,000 and $4,000 daily, while others spend $400 at best.”

Abboud described the numbers of Gulf tourists in Lebanon during Ramadan as “timid” but that high season started from June 7 and ran until late September.

“Lebanese internal political debate does not affect tourism to Lebanon, but regional lineups are the most influential.”

There have been steady increases in passenger numbers at Beirut-Rafic Hariri International Airport since the start of the year.

Airport authorities are improving passenger flow by repositioning security counters in the departure terminal, to be completed by the end of May, after Gulf travelers complained about delays and queues.

Sunset on La Corniche, a seaside promenade in Beirut Central District. (Shutterstock)

Israeli army raids offices of Palestinian NGO

Updated 27 min 10 sec ago

Israeli army raids offices of Palestinian NGO

  • Israeli soldiers forced their way into the offices of prisoner support group Addameer in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah
  • No staff were in the office at that time as thousands of dollars worth of equipment, including five computers were seized

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: Israel’s army raided the offices of a prominent Palestinian NGO early Thursday, its director said, in an operation Amnesty International said aimed to “crush peaceful activism.”
Israeli soldiers forced their way into the offices of prisoner support group Addameer in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah at around 2:00 am, the organization’s director Sahar Francis said.
No staff were in the office at that time, she said, but Israeli forces seized thousands of dollars worth of equipment, including five computers.
“They searched the whole office,” Francis said.
Addameer works to support Palestinian prisoners in both Israeli and Palestinian prisons.
Israeli right-wing activists accuse it of links to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States and the European Union.
The Israeli army did not immediately respond to request for comment on the raid.
Amnesty International’s Deputy Middle East Director Saleh Higazi condemned the “chilling raid,” labelling it an Israeli attempt “to crush peaceful activism and silence NGOs.”
“This was a sinister and calculated attack designed to curtail Addameer’s vital human rights work,” he said in a statement.
The NGO, which documents allegations of abuse in Israeli prisons, has been raided twice before, most recently in 2012.
Francis said that time they had smashed the door and also seized computers.
“We never got back the things they stole in 2012, despite making a request,” she said.
An Addameer employee has also been detained without charge since last year under Israel’s administrative detention laws, Amnesty said.
Higazi said the raid was part of an intensifying Israeli campaign against civil society organizations.
Human Rights Watch’s director for Israel and the Palestinian territories is currently fighting an Israeli expulsion order over allegations he called for a boycott of Israel.
The country in 2017 passed a law banning entry to foreigners supporting a boycott.
Israel has occupied the West Bank since a 1967 war.
The office is in a part of the West Bank nominally under full Palestinian control, but the Israeli army regularly carries out raids in such areas.