by Dana Halawi
BEIRUT, Jan. 3 (Xinhua) -- Lebanon's tourism sector performed well in 2019 new year holiday, said industry experts on Thursday.
"Our hotels have witnessed a good activity by tourists with an increase in occupancy by 7 percent for the period of new year compared to the same period last year," Pierre Ashkar, head of the Syndicate of Hotel Owners in Lebanon, told Xinhua.
Ashkar said that Lebanon succeeded in attracting tourists for the holidays despite the political instability prevailing in the country and the absence of a government.
Lebanon succeeded in holding the first parliamentary elections in nine years, but it still faces the challenge of overcoming all hurdles hindering cabinet formation.
The absence of government has impacted several sectors of the economy including tourism to a certain extent.
Ashkar was worried about possible reservations cancellations after the media reported that two civil planes were saved from a humanitarian disaster when Israel allegedly violated Lebanon's airspace to implement raids against Syria's Damascus.
"Luckily, people did not cancel their reservations," said Ashkar, adding that Lebanon even witnessed a slight increase in visitors from the Gulf region.
"Hotels were mostly reserved by Iraqis, Egyptians, Jordanians and Syrians in addition to Europeans for new year holidays. But we have also witnessed a slight increase in tourism activity by people from the Gulf, which is a positive sign," he said.
In Nov. 2017, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Kuwait warned their citizens against traveling to Lebanon because of a Lebanese-Saudi crisis caused by Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri's controversial resignation in Riyadh which he rescinded soon after.
However, Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Walid Bukhari announced last month that Saudi Arabia will remove the travel ban on Lebanon upon the formation of a Lebanese government.
"When Saudi Arabia removes the travel ban on Lebanon, the rest of the Gulf countries will follow suit," Ashkar said.
The reservations at restaurants and pubs saw a great improvement in Christmas and new year after having suffered throughout the whole year in 2018, said Tony Ramy, head of Lebanese Syndicate of Restaurants Owners.
Restaurants were capable of attracting customers in new year without increasing prices, Ramy added.
Meanwhile, Gerard Zwein, vice president of car rental agencies, told Xinhua that car rental companies worked well during three days before 2019 new year's eve and two days after it.
"We have witnessed demands by Lebanese expatriates mostly in 2018 in addition to some demands by people from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait," he said.
However, Zwein said that such demands will go down again after the holiday season.