Cancelled international flights and bombings on the road from Beirut to Damascus look set to hit Lebanon’s tourism industry at the start of the busy season.This comes after Israel launched air strikes against Lebanon killing dozens. Strikes were in retaliation for the killing and capture of Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah guerrillas.
Summer festivals have been cancelled and the escalating situation could threaten to aggravate Lebanon’s dire economic crisis.
Emirates, Lufthansa, Aeroflot and Austrian Airlines, as well as other carriers have posted notices cancelling flights to Beirut’s Rafiq Hariri International Airport—the country’s only base for overseas flights.
Lebanon said the airport will remain shut for at least 48 hours.
The closure of the airport will cost Lebanon millions of dollars a day in lost tourism revenue, Amr Abdel-Ghaffar of the U.N. World Tourism Organization in Madrid told news wires.
Already thousands of tourists, mostly Gulf Arab nationals have fled Beirut by road to Syria.
This is the season when many overseas Lebanese return to the country. Many of the bars, clubs and restaurants have been packed in recent weeks.
Hotels that were packed only days before “are being vacated,” Tourism Minister Joe Sarkis told news wires. “There’s a flight from Lebanon.”
After collapsing during the 1975-90 civil war, the tourist industry has rebounded strongly in recent years and has become a leading driver of growth.
Now, with travel infrasctructure shut down and the conflict escalating, the industry faces an uncertain future.
Tourism accounts for 12 to 15 percent of Lebanon’s $23.7 billion gross domestic product and is the single largest segment of GDP, and most visitors arrive by air.
The bombardment has hit what looked like a promising year for tourism in Lebanon, arrivals in 2006 were 49 percent above those of 2005.
The World Tourism Organization plans to hold an International Conference on Safety and Security in Tourism in Beirut in late October.