x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Lebanese expats in UAE axe trips home after blast

Travel agents are expecting up to 70 per cent of journeys to Beirut to be cancelled after a massive bombing this week injured 53 people.

Lebanese expatriate Maan Abou Khzam is travelling from Dubai to Beirut today despite concerns about instability in the capital. He says he intends to stick to known safe areas and will be careful. Pawan Singh / The National
Lebanese expatriate Maan Abou Khzam is travelling from Dubai to Beirut today despite concerns about instability in the capital. He says he intends to stick to known safe areas and will be careful. Pawan Singh / The National

ABU DHABI // Lebanese expatriates in the UAE are cancelling planned journeys home due to the political unrest in Beirut.

Travel agents are expecting at least 70 per cent of trips to Lebanon to be called off after the south of the capital was rocked by an explosion on Tuesday.

The massive blast struck the Beir Al Abed neighbourhood, a stronghold of Hizbollah, wounding at least 53 people.

"I'm not taking any risks so I decided to cancel my business trip," said Abdullah Samman, a Lebanese resident of Abu Dhabi. "Access to Beirut airport has been blocked in the past so I can't afford to get stuck there should this escalate."

Customers who arranged trips through Al Majid Travel Agency in Dubai began cancelling flights on Tuesday, while Akbar Gulf Travels in Abu Dhabi has had at least 16 bookings to Beirut called off.

"Nobody wants to get into a war zone right now," said Hubert Dhanpal, a business development manager with Akbar Gulf Travel. "And there are definitely going to be more cancellations - at least 70 per cent.

"A lot less people have been travelling to Beirut from the time of political unrest there.

"A lot of people from Beirut work here, so they might postpone. In the past, even after they claimed it was safe to travel after political unrest, people still cancelled. It is a top destination because the weather is cooler but, especially with Ramadan, people want to stay safe."

But some expatriates are determined not to let the problems at home get in the way of their lives.

"I don't react to these things anymore," said Maan Abou Khzam, 27, who lives in Dubai and is travelling to Beirut today.

"It always happens, it's forecasted that explosions might happen during this time so we're used to it."

Mr Khzam said he intended to take precautions but would not be changing his travel plans.

"I'll be more careful and I'll probably just go out to the spots that are relatively safe, like downtown and Hamra," he said.

Jean-Marc Garabedian, 26, works in Dubai and travelled to Beirut yesterday.

"If everyone cancelled their trip to Lebanon, our economy would be greatly affected and this will only strengthen whoever is trying to destabilise our country," he said.

"I expected a blast sooner or later, especially with the situation in neighbouring Syria and the summer is ideal as it tends to affect our economy. But we will continue to live our daily lives."

He will avoid some areas, such as the south and north of the country.

Another Dubai resident, Marc Daoud, 29, plans to travel to Beirut next week. He has three more trips there planned over the summer.

"I was disappointed when I first found out what happened but I'm hoping it won't escalate and end up a repetition of the 2006 war," he said. "We've got used to these one-off events happening now, it's become a kind of new normal."

Mr Daoud does not expect the tension to escalate.

"With everything you hear going on, it's not just Lebanon," he said. "You can take any other countries within the perimeter and it's always the same. I think it's all linked to the same issue and it's reached its peak."

The situation is more worrying for expatriates who have family living close to the scene of the explosion.

"I was a bit worried because my family lives in Dahieh, which is two or three streets away from the bomb," said Ahmad Oneissi, 27, who lives in Dubai.

"You're used to this stuff in Dahieh but not these types of bombings, they're scary and you never know when it happens. These cases would make me worry."

Mr Oneissi said he still planned to fly home next month.

"I believe that if something should happen, it will happen," he said. "The area is less secure than other areas in Lebanon."

cmalek@thenational.ae