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Tourist numbers drop as Western visitors avoid Lebanon

Almost all of Lebanon's visitors in the first quarter came from the Lebanese diaspora Visit Lebanon
Almost all of Lebanon's visitors in the first quarter came from the Lebanese diaspora
  • Inbound tourism falls 13.5%
  • Air passengers down 100,000
  • Knock-on effect on growth

Inbound tourism to Lebanon fell 13.5 percent year on year in the first three months of 2024, mainly as a result of Western tourists staying away, data released by the country’s Ministry of Tourism shows.

It is the latest indication of damage to Lebanon’s post-crisis economy caused by the ongoing border conflict between Hezbollah and Israeli forces in the country’s south.

The number of visitors to Lebanon this year reached 237,633 by March 2024, compared with 274,787 recorded by March 2023 and 375,815 by March 2019, before the onset of the economic crisis.

The drop was highest among Western tourists. Visitor numbers from Europe and North America decreased by 17 percent and 15 percent year on year respectively, compared with a nearly 12 percent drop in visitors from Arab countries.

According to comments made by Marwan Haber, head of the commercial division at Middle East Airlines (MEA), at a hospitality conference in Beirut last month, around 95 percent of visits at the start of this year were made by members of the Lebanese diaspora. 

Excluding the diaspora, Haber said, MEA saw “no significant traffic” from Western markets at the start of 2024.

The Beirut-Rafic Hariri International Airport, the only functioning commercial airport in Lebanon, also released figures claiming that the total number of air passengers in the first three months of 2024 fell to 1.8 million, down from 1.9 million in the first quarter of last year.

Before regular fighting broke out on the southern border on October 8, tourism had been on the rise in Lebanon. Visitor numbers in the first half of 2023 increased by 32 percent compared with the previous year.

The subsequent drop in visitor numbers contributed to downgrades in growth predictions from the World Bank, IMF and others.

In its annual report on the state of world tourism published in April, the World Travel and Tourism Council estimated that tourism’s share of the national economy would decrease from 6.6 percent in 2023 to 5.5 percent in 2024.

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