As the civil war in Syria continues to takes its toll on the economies of neighboring countries, Lebanon’s tourism ministry has launched a campaign of major discounts to revive the tourism sector and lure back visitors from Gulf countries.
The 50-day campaign started on January 8 and includes major discounts on airline tickets and hotels, and reductions at shopping centers.
Lebanon’s minister of tourism, Fady Abboud, said the campaign had already proven to be a successful approach to reviving tourism.
“For sure, this is not a new campaign. If you remember 10 years ago, we had what we call Shopping Month. We are doing it for 50 days with a new approach, and of course this is a marketing tool. The results aren’t bad. People are booking with the airline companies - not all tickets are subject to a 50% discount, but there are packages, so three or four days in a hotel with very encouraging prices,” said Abboud.
In addition to tumbling exports, Lebanon’s tourist industry declined by as much as 15 percent last year.
Most Gulf countries warned their citizens not to visit Lebanon after clashes erupted between supporters and opponents of the Syrian uprising. Lebanon has also lost most of the 600,000 Arab tourists who usually drive into Lebanon through Syria each year.
“Visitors from the Gulf countries are scared of visiting Lebanon. They have been told, regardless of whether it is true or not, that there is a danger of kidnapping. Of course our duty, as security services and a government, is to assure them on this subject.
They are our guests in Lebanon and their safety is our safety too,” Abboud added.
Many of Lebanon’s shops, restaurants, and hotels are participating in the campaign, offering major discounts on their products and services until February 28.
Some hotels in Beirut’s Hamra district said they were offering special packages to help attract more tourists.
“We are participating in it (the 50-day campaign) on different levels. We are participating in a complete package with airlines, and independently as a hotel. We are doing a 50% discount on our listed prices to help the campaign,” said Cynthia Flouti, a sales manager at the Crowne Plaza hotel.
Lebanon brushed off the global economic downturn in 2008 and enjoyed strong annual growth of seven-nine percent for four years until last year, when growth slowed to 1.5 percent, according to IMF data.
The IMF said in September that the main risk to Lebonon’s economy was poor policy making, not Syria, as poor infrastructure and erratic government policy discourage many investors from setting up businesses in the country.
Beirut shop-keeper Mohammed Srouji said the economic situation had reduced people’s purchasing power.
“All of the Hamra street is committed to the 50% campaign, we are even providing more than 50% discounts. Prices are going down nowadays because the trader is not able to sell his products. What can he do with his stock? Clothes can’t be eaten, so he must sell them. God help the Lebanese people, they barely have food and drink, let alone are they able to buy clothes. This is why we are waiting for tourists, no one from the Gulf has come,” said Srouji.
Syria’s war has affected all the countries around it, with hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. Trading routes have also been cut.