Lebanon News

Beirut hotels occupancy down 80 percent since September

Zaitunay Bay port and Beirut hotels. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Hotel occupancy rates in Beirut have reached a startling low of 10 to 15 percent since September 2019 with nearly zero occupancy recorded outside of the city, according to numbers from the Syndicate of Hotel Owners.

Pierre Achkar, head of the syndicate, told The Daily Star that hotels have seen an 80 percent decrease in occupancy rates since September 2019 – a direct result of the worst economic crisis the country has experienced since the Civil War.

“It’s the worst I’ve seen in almost 50 years,” Achkar said.

According to the syndicate, there are 542 hotels across Lebanon; approximately 200 of those are in Beirut and the Greater Beirut area.

“I can assure you that all hotels are partially closed,” Achkar said, adding “If a hotel has 10 floors for example, they’ll have only one or two floors open.”

So far no hotels have shut down, but Achkar says “if we continue for a long time like this we will see a lot of hotels going out.”

Low occupancy rates have also impacted how much hotels are charging their clients.

Nightly rates for four-star hotels have dropped by approximately 40 percent since 2009 and 2010, which Achkar says were peak years for tourism in Lebanon.

Occupancy rates in 2009 to 2010 were around 76 percent, with a typical four-star hotel charging $140 per night.

“The country was stable, Arabs were coming to Lebanon, especially people from the Gulf,” Achkar recalled. “Now nightly rates for four-star hotels are between $65 to $70.”

Achkar stressed that the issue started well before Lebanon’s nationwide anti-government uprising on Oct. 17.

“This started happening before the revolution ... Arabs used to come for the summer for a minimum of 15 days to two months, we lost a lot of these people because of political issues.”

At Hamra Urban Gardens, a popular budget hotel in the bustling Hamra district, manager Mike Abdo told The Daily Star there had been a 30 to 40 percent decrease in occupancy from Sept. 2019 to Jan. 2020 – the worst he had seen in four years.

Because of the economic crisis, Abdo says the hotel is charging rates in the national currency.

“Rates were in U.S. dollars before, now we changed them to Lebanese lira, because the [exchange rate] is not stable ... in order to not have a problem with exchange rates we put our rates in lira,” he said.

“Right now we’re okay, but of course we are worried ... I don’t know how long we can stay like this.”

Lebanon's economy and finances have deteriorated significantly over the past year, with zero growth and low inflows of remittances from abroad.

While the Lebanese pound has officially been pegged to the U.S. dollar at L.L.1507.5 since 1998, increasing dollar shortages have pushed unofficial rates above L.L.2,500. This has threatened imports of essential goods from abroad and reduced individual purchasing power.

Mazen Bou Dargham, a consultant for the tourism minister, said a meeting will be held with all syndicates next week to find solutions and address the impacts of the economic crisis on businesses. The Syndicate of Owners of Restaurants, Cafes, Night-Clubs and Pastry Shops announced in a statement Tuesday that 785 food and beverage business closures took place between Sept. 1, 2019, and Feb. 1, 2020.

“For the first time, the Tourism Ministry is looking to have a united team with the syndicates. We requested that they send us short-, medium- and long-term plans for their vision and how to increase tourism and make it better,” Bou Dargham told The Daily Star.

After the syndicates send the plans, Bou Dargham says the ministry is aiming to develop a blueprint to “help with the future of tourism in the country.”

 

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