TRAVEL TRADE WEEKLY: How was business in the first quarter of this year?
YASMINE EID MAALOUF: We [were] expecting to close the first quarter of this year with an increase of three percent in terms of occupancy year-on-year. However, we have a decrease of average room rate due to the severe competition and five-star [hotels] decreasing their rates. We are projecting a better year than 2016, thought we did not see yet the return of the GCC visitors as expected.
TRAVEL TRADE WEEKLY: What are your key source markets?
YASMINE EID MAALOUF: Our main market is from Europe, Istanbul and Egypt. This year we have been working with a new leisure market from Tunisia.
TRAVEL TRADE WEEKLY: How important and valuable are niche tourism sectors in Lebanon?
YASMINE EID MAALOUF: The tourism and alternative tourism industry in Lebanon has been historically important to the local economy and remains to this day to be a major source of revenue for Lebanon.
The country's historical and archaeological sites are displayed all across the country, reflecting ancient and modern world history. Lebanon has a long-standing history of cultural tourism.
Ecotourism in Lebanon has a rich background of natural diversity and a wide range of outdoor activities. We also saw during the last couple of years, the growth of a new kind of tourism – local tourism – a where Lebanese tend to discover their own country with different generations. Another alternative tourism as well are the famous Lebanese festivals – with the famous international festivals of Baalbek, Byblos and Beiteddine – which attract [visitors from across] the region and Lebanese living abroad. When it comes to medical tourism, Lebanon features the best medical staff and equipment in the region thus welcoming and contributing to the growth of the medical tourism.
TRAVEL TRADE WEEKLY: What are the latest updates on Lebanon’s tourism industry?
YASMINE EID MAALOUF: The government believes that, because of the return of peace and stability to the country and with the development of the necessary infrastructure, tourism will again contribute significantly to Lebanon's economy. Lebanon's tourism industry also relies on the large number of Lebanese living abroad, who return regularly to the country during the summer season.
The Ministry of Tourism is now offering special packages to encourage the GCC visitor to come back as well as now focussing on Armenia. A lot of travel agents are also offering packages for medical tourism and holidays. You can see an increase of the medical tourism, especially from countries such as Iraq, and this year we saw a significant demand and increase for ski packages.
TRAVEL TRADE WEEKLY: What does the future hold for tourism in Lebanon?
YASMINE EID MAALOUF: Tourism has always been an important contributor to Lebanon's economy, accounting for almost 20 percent of GDP. Lebanon was also featured by several international media outlets [...] as a top tourist destination, [especially in 2009]. Despite the recent travel ban from other countries, to urge their citizens to avoid all travel to Lebanon due to current safety and security concerns, we do continue to believe that tourism will remain a major and growing sector for Lebanon.
Our main targets remain the GCC, but not necessarily the GCC visitors but foreigners living in GCC, Egypt, Iraq and Istanbul. But we will also focus on some emerging market such as Iran, North Africa and the Lebanese Diaspora. To keep on going forward, it appears to us for now to follow the demand of the market, however we do trust that supply and demand will regularise and bring back the market to its normal positioning.