Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 24 October 2019

Lebanon’s tourism minister worried about bookings after recent intra-Druze clash

The country's Cabinet has not convened since two men were killed in a shootout 10 days ago

Lebanese Druze Sheikhs sit together during the funeral of Rami Salman, one of two aides of Refugee Affairs Minister Saleh al-Gharib who was killed on Sunday, in an incident that Gharib called an assassination attempt, during his funeral in Ramlieh, Lebanon July 5, 2019. Reuters
Lebanese Druze Sheikhs sit together during the funeral of Rami Salman, one of two aides of Refugee Affairs Minister Saleh al-Gharib who was killed on Sunday, in an incident that Gharib called an assassination attempt, during his funeral in Ramlieh, Lebanon July 5, 2019. Reuters

The Lebanese tourism minister said on Wednesday he was worried about the effect that recent intra-Druze clashes that killed two men would have on the Lebanese economy.

Avedis Guidanian told President Michel Aoun of his concerns after a minister’s two bodyguards were killed in violence between the country’s rival Druze parties on June 30 in Aley, just north of Chouf, the heartland of the Druze community.

The Progressive Socialist Party, the main Druze group in Lebanon, and the smaller Lebanese Democratic Party blamed each other for the shooting, which brought back memories of the civil war that ended nearly three decades ago.

“I have been disgusted by what has happened on the ground,” Mr Guidanian said. “We hope that we can overcome these problems in the coming days.”

The minister said he told Mr Aoun that “if the consequences were not contained, we fear that there will be an impact on the tourism sector".

He said the president reassured him that the matter was being attended to and the crisis would be overcome.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri has postponed convening the Cabinet since the fighting to avoid fuelling tension between the two Druze parties and their allies. But the situation seems to be calming down.

Elie Ferzli, the deputy speaker of Parliament, said on Wednesday after meeting Mr Hariri that there was “no doubt” a Cabinet meeting would be held soon, the state-run National News Agency reported.

Tourism is among the Lebanese economy’s main drivers, but security problems regularly scare off tourists.

Tourism has been sluggish since the outbreak of the civil war in Syria in 2011.

“The tourism sector has suffered for eight years and there was great hope that this year it would get better again,” Mr Guidanian said.

He said that he remained optimistic and there had been no recorded cancellations of hotel bookings in Aley since the violence 10 days ago.

Mr Guidanian said tourist arrivals in the first six months of the year were “very encouraging".

He said more than 100,000 tourists had come from Europe, injecting $100 million (Dh367.3m) into the local economy.

Arrivals from France grew by 30 per cent compared to the same period last year, he said.

The number of tourists from Arab countries, traditionally the biggest spenders, has increased compared to 2018 despite remaining lower than in 2010, Lebanon’s peak year for tourism.

Mr Guidanian said that 44,000 tourists from Saudi Arabia came to Lebanon between January and June, a 100 per cent growth compared to the first six months of 2018 but still 37 per cent less than in 2010.

“Hopefully these numbers will improve in July and August," he said.

The 43,000 Jordanians who visited in the first six months of this year was well down on the 132,000 for the first half of 2010.

Mr Guidanian said the main reason for the decline was the difficulty in reaching Lebanon by land because of the Syrian crisis.

Updated: July 12, 2019 03:57 AM

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