Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—Lebanon’s vital tourism sector will not be affected by the latest unrest in the country, Tourism Minister Michel Pharaon told Asharq Al-Awsat.
A spate of attacks has rocked Lebanon in recent weeks, with the latest a suicide bombing at a Beirut hotel Wednesday evening which the Lebanese Red Cross said had wounded 11 people.
It was the third suicide bombing in the country in less than a week, sparking fears the conflict in neighboring Syria was spilling over into Lebanon.
Another suicide bombing on Monday near a Hezbollah stronghold killed one person and wounded 20.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat ahead of the Beiteddine Art Festival due to begin on June 26, Pharaon said the recent bombings would only have a “limited effect” on tourism in the country.
“After the success of the security apparatus in foiling terrorist plots became apparent, a sense of reassurance returned to people’s hearts, particularly after we intensified our efforts to put in place a domestic strategic agreement to preserve stability,” he said.
“Terrorism is threatening every country in the region without exception; Lebanon is not the only country under threat. The awareness and vigilance of the security services, and the ongoing coordination with foreign [security services], are factors that contribute to building confidence among tourists. This is shown by the fact that bookings are not being affected by the bombings and the ongoing political crisis surrounding the Lebanese presidency,” Pharaon added.
Lebanon’s tourism sector, which represents more than 15 percent of the country’s GDP, has improved this year following the long-awaited formation of the technocratic Tammam Salam government. Salam has embarked on a Gulf tour to encourage tourists there to visit the country, the latest stop being Kuwait on Sunday, where he offered reassurances to Gulf tourists that the security situation in Beirut was under control.
Chairman of Lebanon’s Marine Tourist Operations Jean Beiruti told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Most Arabs, Gulf nationals and Lebanese expats know Lebanon . . . as well as the Lebanese themselves.”
“The latest bombings were very limited and are a direct result of the conflict raging in the wider region. I expect tourism in Lebanon to pick up strongly following the month of Ramadan and the end of the World Cup,” he added.
According to statistics provided by Lebanon’s Tourism Minister, approximately 1.3 million tourists visited the country in 2013, a decline of 6.7 percent from the previous year. Tourism Minister Pharaon has launched a number of initiatives to boost the flagging tourism industry, including the ‘Live Long Lebanon’ promotional campaign earlier this year.
Speaking to Lebanon’s Daily Star, the head of Lebanon’s Hotel Owners’ Association, Pierre Ashkar, said it was too soon to tell how the recent unrest would affect tourism this summer. “In principle, when we have unstable security in a country, the tourism sector will naturally suffer. I can’t tell if these incidents will prompt tourists to cancel their bookings,” he said.
However, Ashkar praised the role being played by Lebanon’s security apparatus. “The pre-emptive measures adopted by the Lebanese Army and security forces have caused relief among the tourists and visitors and I hope they continue these efforts,” he added.