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Lebanon reports visitor increase despite border conflict

Nejmeh Square in Beirut. Visitor numbers to Lebanon for the first 10 months of 2023 were up 21% on the previous year Visit Lebanon
Nejmeh Square in Beirut. Visitor numbers to Lebanon for the first 10 months of 2023 were up 21% on the previous year
  • Highest numbers for four years
  • Strong 2023 summer buoys sector
  • UK and US warn against travel

Visitor numbers to Lebanon increased to their highest levels last year since the 2019 economic crisis, despite conflict on the southern border dampening tourism since October.

Figures released by the Ministry for Tourism showed the number of visitors to Lebanon in 2023 reached 1.67 million, a 13.7 percent year-on-year increase.

Lebanon registered 1.94 million inbound tourists in 2019.

Visitor numbers for the first 10 months of 2023 alone were up 21.2 percent on the previous year with a monthly average of 151,000. The numbers were highest in summer, with the second quarter recording a 33.3 percent year-on-year increase.

The Tourism Ministry had previously targeted a yearly inflow of 2 million tourists for 2024, with the caretaker government prioritising tourism as part of Lebanon’s recovery.

Since October 18 the British Foreign Office has advised UK citizens against all travel to Lebanon due to the risks of the border conflict escalating. It encouraged all British nationals in Lebanon to leave "while commercial options remain available".

Similarly, the US State Department maintains a "reconsider travel" status for US citizens, warning against all travel to the south.

The majority of tourists to Lebanon tend to be expatriated Lebanese citizens. In 2022, 63 percent of inbound visitors were Lebanese nationals or dual-citizens, according to the General Security Directorate.

Following an outbreak of hostilities at the border, monthly visitors in November fell to 58,910 before picking up slightly in December to 100,124. 

The figures suggest that the border conflict between Hezbollah and Israel – which has killed more than 240 people and displaced over 100,000 – has taken a toll on inbound tourism but that its worst effects were mitigated by a strong summer season.

The World Bank predicted a modest 0.2 percent in GDP growth for 2023, which would have been the first year of growth since the 2019 crisis. Instead, the economy contracted. The bank has yet to make growth predictions for 2024, citing high levels of uncertainty. 

Late last year, ratings agency S&P Global suggested, in the worst case scenario, that tourism revenues could fall to 10 to 30 percent due to conflict, costing Lebanon 23 percent of its GDP.

Despite regional conflict threatening tourism across the region, the sector’s worst fears have not yet come to pass.

Egypt registered a decline in visitor numbers following the outbreak of fighting, but overall it reported a record high 14.9 million inbound tourists, just shy of its 15 million target. 

Egypt’s tourism minister Ahmed Issa reported that visitor numbers have already bounced back in 2024, with the first 40 days of the year recording a 5 percent increase year-on-year.

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