Roundup: Lebanon's hotels register low occupancy in Christmas, New Year due to COVID-19

2020-12-24 21:35:56 GMT2020-12-25 05:35:56(Beijing Time) Xinhua English

BEIRUT, Dec. 24 (Xinhua) -- Lebanon's hotels have seen a sharp decline in their occupancy rates during Christmas and New Year season this year due to COVID-19 outbreak worldwide, industry experts said.

"The situation is very bad. Most of the people visiting Lebanon during this time of the year are Lebanese expatriates who have houses in the country and do not need to stay in hotels," Pierre Ashkar, president of the Syndicate of Hotels Owners in Lebanon, told Xinhua.

Ashkar noted that occupancy rate stands between 10 percent and 15 percent in Beirut while it is non-existent in mountains and other areas outside the capital.

"We do not have parties in Lebanon this year given the COVID-19 outbreak and the economic collapse prompting a big number of our artists to travel to the United Arab Emirates or other countries to throw their concerts," Ashkar said.

Hotels interviewed by Xinhua reported a slowdown in activity during this festive season while attributing the decline in reservations mainly to COVID-19.

Maha Jhaith, head of reservations at Riviera, a five-star hotel in Beirut, said that her hotel received few reservations for New Year this year which then got cancelled due to the closure of airports in several countries following news about the new variant of COVID-19.

"We are going through a very bad situation this year despite the fact that Lebanon has become a cheaper choice for tourists after the weakening of the Lebanese pound," Jhaith said.

Lebanon has been suffering from a shortage in U.S. dollar crisis causing a high demand on the foreign currency which weakened the Lebanese local currency. Meanwhile, most of the institutions and businesses in Lebanon price their goods and services in Lebanese pound.

Therefore, Lebanon has become an attractive destination for tourists when it comes to prices of different services. But COVID-19 has prevented Lebanon from benefitting from this factor so far.

Ayman Nasreddine, operations manager at Cavalier Hotel, a four-star hotel in Hamra, said that occupancy at his hotel stands at around 15 percent due to COVID-19.

Nasreddine said that his hotel took very strict measures in a bid to continue its operations by removing 30 out of its 45 staff members while closing some floors and reducing expenses, but he is not sure the hotel can operate much longer if the situation remains the same.

"We will reach a point where the owner must either inject cash into the business for us to continue or we will have to shut down," he said.

Elie Sfeir, head of reservations and front office at Raouche Arjaan Hotel, a four-star hotel in Raouche, said that his hotel is doing better than others due to its location that's attractive to Iraqi nationals, noting that 80 percent of the hotel's customers are Iraqis.

"Iraqi nationals prefer to stay by the sea and at the same time they can visit the American University of Beirut Medical Center (AUBMC) which is at a close distance to our hotel since a big number of Iraqis come to Beirut for medical reasons," he said.

The hotel sector in Lebanon witnessed heavy losses this year not only due to COVID-19 outbreak but the Beirut port's blasts as well which have caused severe damage to 163 hotels.

Most of the well-known hotel chains, including Four Seasons, Hilton and Le Gray, shut their doors down following the explosions.

Moreover, Phoenicia Intercontinental Hotel, which is one of the most famous hotels in the country, closed after being hit by the Beirut's blasts.

Ashkar noted that some hotels managed to fix the damage caused by the blasts while others do not have money to rehabilitate their establishments especially as most insurance companies have not compensated for the damage yet.

He said more than half of employees in the tourism sector have lost their jobs given the damage caused by the explosions.

Two huge explosions rocked Port of Beirut on Aug. 4, shaking buildings all over Lebanon's capital, while killing at least 177 people and wounding around 6,000 others. Enditem