Lots of room at the inn

Cigdem Iltan
Olympic size swimming pool of the five star Movenpick Hotel, Beirut..Life goes on in Beirut twenty years after the end of the civil war in 1991 despite the difficulties with enormous reconstruction efforts, modern housing construction, night life, shopping, world of luxury products and ever present scent of nargileh, Beirut, Lebanon
Lots of room at the inn
Veronika Lukasova/Keystone Press

Beirut’s luxury hotels had only just stolen the spotlight back from bombed-out ones when Arab Spring uprisings and trouble on Lebanon’s domestic front dealt a debilitating blow to the city’s tourism industry this year. After the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, the city’s reclamation of its hedonistic reputation and “Paris of the East” moniker was made official in 2009 when the New York Times named Beirut the top place to visit in the world. And the numbers followed: in 2010, Lebanon set a new tourism record with more than two million visitors, exceeding pre-civil-war numbers. But tourism dropped 15.5 per cent in the first four months of this year, while Beirut’s hotel business has dropped 40 per cent. Dozens of restaurants have shuttered, while many that remain open have laid off employees or cut their salaries. Business owners also blame Lebanon’s precarious political situation: after more than five months without a government, the country finally got one on June 13, albeit an administration dominated by militant group Hezbollah. The fast-deterioriating situation in neighbouring Syria is no help, either, as the country is an important land route for tourists travelling from Jordan and Turkey.