Slump in Gulf Tourists Hits Heart of Lebanon's Economy

[AFP] Lebanon's political crisis has turned into an economic nightmare for its vital tourist industry. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain, whose citizens often spend as much of their money on Lebanon's ski slopes in the winter as they do on its beaches in the summer, have advised their citizens not to travel to the country due to the political crisis. Riyadh - one of Lebanon's main bankrollers - recently instructed its citizens already in Lebanon to leave the country "if possible." For a tourist industry already reeling from the February 2005 assassination of former prime minister Hariri and Israel's war on Hizbullah in the summer 2006, such warnings are the kiss of death. A long-running sit-in staged by the Hizbullah-led opposition in Beirut's downtown has left the usually vibrant area deserted, forcing most of its shops and restaurants out of business. Pierre Ashkar, president of Lebanon's hotel owners' syndicate, said that during normal times, at least 60% of hotel guests come from the Gulf, but that occupancy rates had dropped by half over the past two years.

2008-03-14 01:00:00

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