The ban on UAE citizens to travelling to Lebanon will hurt the country’s tourism sector, experts say.
The travel ban comes on the heels of Saudi Arabia stopping US$4 billion in military aid to Lebanon last week. The Saudi decision was backed by the UAE, Kuwait and Bahrain.
Security concerns and geopolitical tensions also plague Syria, Egypt and Turkey.
Travellers from the UAE and the Arabian Gulf are expected to prefer destinations in Europe and the Far East over popular destinations in Egypt, Lebanon and Turkey this year, according to Euromonitor International and travel agencies.
“Political tensions have and are expected to have in the forecast negative impact not only on the economic ties but is also expected to be detrimental for the tourism flow from Gulf counties towards Lebanon,” said Kinda Chebib, the lead analyst at Euromonitor International. “[Arabian] Gulf tourists in general were vital to the industry and to the Lebanese economy. Those decisions are therefore expected to have strong repercussion on the financial situation of Lebanon on the short to medium term.”
Security concerns could also result in a gradual repatriation of the Gulf workforce currently active in Lebanon. “Gulf investments in major Lebanese sectors and in particular in key real estate projects are likely to be halted or cancelled,” Ms Chebib said.
The Gulf government deposits at the Central Bank of Lebanon is around $860 million, she said.
Lebanon’s own security issues deterred Gulf tourists from spending holidays in the country last year.
The Lebanese tourism ministry was hoping to attract Gulf travellers back, with its Rise Above Lebanon promotional video, which is a part of its "Live Love Lebanon" campaign. The country also promoted itself in Dubai through advertising hoardings last month.
About 1.44 million tourists were expected to visit Lebanon this year, up marginally from 1.4 million last year, according to Euromonitor International. Of these, 48,000 were expected from Saudi Arabia, up from 45,700 a year earlier. From the UAE, the number of arrivals were expected at 7,900, up from 7,600 last year.
Travel agents also expect low outbound flow to Turkey and Egypt.
Because of the current political climate, bookings to these destinations have dropped, according to Musafir.com.
“Lebanon and Turkey have taken a huge hit in terms outbound numbers,” said Atish Thapa, the head of leisure travel at Musafir.com. “Overall all three markets could see an increase in bookings from quarter three onwards, but the quarter one and quarter two outlook on sales to these destinations is low.”
Leisure travel to Lebanon was expected to decline by 20 per cent this year compared to last year, according to the Egyptian travel agency Travco.
“There was not that much demand from the Arabian Gulf markets to Lebanon,” said Akram Adel, the director of travel for holidays and business and incentive travel at Travco in Dubai. Demand to Turkey and Egypt is also expected to be down by 30 to 40 per cent compared to last year, he said.
Musafir’s Mr Thapa said the portal was experiencing a lot of nterest in offbeat European destination such as Croatia, Bulgaria, Scandinavia and Hungary
“Apart from traditional destinations such as the Far East, Kenya, Maldives and South East Asia, cruise options to these destinations are the most enquired,” he said.
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