Lebanon hopes to lure tourists after bomb

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Beirut’s luxury hotels have patched up the damage from a huge bombing that plunged the country into turmoil and opened their doors again hoping to lure back tourists in time for the summer.

The Feb. 14 blast that killed former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri shattered the windows and blew in the doors of hotels lining the coast, forcing them to close for some two months.

Now that Syria has pulled its troops out of Lebanon after 29 years and the country is looking forward to May elections that had been threatened by political upheaval, hopes are high Arab visitors will return to their favorite regional destination.

The damage was great; everything that’s made of glass or aluminum was shattered, doors, some bathrooms and other things,” said a representative for the Palm Beach Hotel, which overlooks the bomb site, littered with wrecks of cars and debris gouged from nearby buildings.

“But we are getting calls from our clients asking if we have reopened. We hope that in June it will all be better.”

Workers are still putting the finishing touches on the glass entrance to the Palm Beach Hotel, which reopened on April 25 after being closed for two months. But no guests mill in the lobby and only a handful of the 87 rooms are occupied.

The number of tourists arriving in Lebanon was down 16.8 percent in March compared to the same month last year, Tourism Ministry figures show. Arab visitors, the mainstay of Lebanon’s industry, fell some 40 percent. But hoteliers are hopeful.

“Arab tourists, who form the majority of our summer guests, usually leave their decisions until the last moments,” said Ghida Reda, sales manager at the Radisson SAS Hotel.

“Now, they are all waiting and so are we.”


Beirut was dubbed the Paris of the Orient before the 1975-1990 civil war turned its seaside strip into a battleground for militias and the rooftops of its hotels into snipers’ nests.

But the city was regaining its allure as a vacation spot before the February bombing, which gouged a deep crater out of the road and ripped facades from luxury buildings and hotels.

The latest bombing jogged fading memories of civil war in the minds of European and American tourists, but some have been driven by a sense of adventure.

“My parents were really worried; I was reading about things blowing up and you don’t understand what’s going on,” said Erin Lyall, a 25-year-old American in Lebanon for a week.

“But I thought of it as a little adventure and now that I’m here it seems more like being in Paris.”

Others were inspired by the popular street protests that swept Beirut after the assassination, bringing down the government and calling for its Syrian backers to end their grip.

“It was not only the February bombing that scared tourists but memories of the long civil war,” said Joanna Grzonka-Przeniosto, a Polish tour guide who visits Lebanon 10 times a year.

“But I brought a group here in March and we saw some demonstrations. They got all excited and wanted to join in.”