Lebanon expects to host 2.2 million tourists and earn about $9 billion in much-needed tourism revenue this year as it grapples with ongoing political deadlock and its worst economic crisis since independence.
This is slightly up from the 1.7 million visitors the Arab country hosted in 2022, when it received a similar $9 billion in cash flow from tourism, Walid Nassar, Lebanon's Minister of Tourism, told reporters on the sidelines of the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai.
Of the 2.2 million expected visitors, 75 per cent are expected to be Lebanese that live abroad who will return home for the holidays and the remaining 25 per cent foreigners mainly from Egypt, Jordan, Iraq and Kuwait, he said.
The projected tourist numbers stand far below the pre-Covid level of seven million visitors in 2019, he said.
“You can expect a really hot summer in terms of tourism in Lebanon,” the minister told a panel at the annual travel event.
Lebanon's economic and financial crises have been exacerbated by a political impasse that has blocked the formation of a new government and the enactment of reforms required to unlock billions of dollars in aid from the International Monetary Fund and other international donors.
Asked how the crisis-hit country will attract a little more than two million tourists this year, the minister said that the Lebanese pound's devaluation has made services and accommodation cheaper for international tourists spending hard currency.
Lebanon's central bank devalued the pound in early February, with the official exchange rate changing to 15,000 to the US dollar, compared with the peg in place since 1997 of 1,507.50 to the greenback.
This led to a surge in consumer prices in March and the Lebanese pound trading in the parallel market at as much as 140,000 to the dollar earlier this month.
Inflation in Lebanon hit an annual rate of about 264 per cent in March.
Warming diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran will also have a positive impact on Lebanon's tourism performance, the minister said.
The Riyadh-Tehran detente is expected to have “positive repercussions on the whole region and in Lebanon in particular”, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said last month.
“Any rapprochement between any two Arab countries will affect positively Lebanon because we are part of this area … we are acting to improve this relationship between Lebanon, GCC [Gulf Co-operation Council countries] and Saudi Arabia,” Mr Nasser said.
Eco-tourism, religious tourism and rural getaways in the mountains are also attracting different types of travellers to the country, Mr Nassar said.
“We were surprised last year, after the port explosion and the Covid-19 pandemic, by the number of people that came to visit Lebanon,” Mr Nassar said.
The tourism ministry and the private sector will organise more than 80 events over the summer months to attract more visitors, he said.
“Lebanon has spectacular tourism offerings. Despite its economic crisis, it is rich in its attractions,” Mr Nassar said.
“Tourism is the backbone of the national economy.”