Lebanon’s hospitality sector faces crisis amid border tensions

Lebanon’s once-thriving hospitality industry is experiencing a severe downturn due to escalating border tensions in the Israel-Hamas conflict. In Byblos, a coastal city north of Beirut and home to a World Heritage site, the war’s specter has led to deserted streets and empty establishments. Bartender Richard Alam, 19, has seen a dramatic drop in customers, reflecting a broader trend across the country’s hospitality venues..

The impact is not limited to Byblos; it extends throughout Lebanon. Customer scarcity is evident in souvenir shops, restaurants, cafes, and hotels, with many business owners like Mona Mujahed, 60, reporting a significant loss of income. The conflict has deterred not only international tourists but also domestic visitors, further straining an industry already weakened by an economic crisis since 2019, which forced the closure of half of Lebanon’s hospitality establishments.

Tony Ramy, head of an industry syndicate, notes that the sector was just beginning to recover from multiple setbacks, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the Beirut port explosion in 2020. However, the recent conflict has led to a considerable decline in clientele, with up to an 80% drop on weekdays and 30-50% on weekends.

The conflict’s toll has been deadly, with cross-border skirmishes resulting in casualties on both sides. Lebanon has reported at least 88 deaths, primarily Hezbollah combatants and 10 civilians, while northern Israel has recorded nine deaths, including six soldiers.

The repercussions extend to air travel, with Lebanon’s national carrier Middle East Airlines reducing flights due to a significant drop in passenger numbers from the region and Europe. This decrease has contributed to the struggle of hospitality venues in Beirut, where places like the Hotel Cavalier in the Hamra area have seen a surge in cancellations and a drastic reduction in new bookings.

Hotel occupancy rates have plummeted, according to Pierre Ashkar, head of the hotel owners’ syndicate. He mentioned that even if the conflict ends soon, it would take months for travel advisories to change and business to return to normal. Despite these challenges, there is a sense of resilience among the Lebanese, born from years of navigating through crises, including the civil war and other conflicts. This enduring spirit gives hope to the sector’s eventual recovery once stability returns.