In an exclusive interview with Arabian Business, Lebanese Tourism Minister Fady Abboud lays out a new tourism plan for the country:
Authorities in Lebanon are in talks with low cost carriers including easyJet and Ryanair about starting operations to the country in a bid to boost a tourism industry that has been rocked by political turmoil in the Arab world, including neighboring Syria…
The problem it seems is landing rights:
“But Lebanon’s civil aviation will not give them the right to land – they say ‘yes you can come from London, but we want 25 extra flights to Heathrow’.”
Slots at Heathrow are considered one of the most expensive in the world and I am curious to know why Lebanon would need 25 extra flights to the British capital. I am not aware of such a high demand for travel to London but I guess they have their reasons.
“I have a complete plan that I want to introduce low cost flights and chartered flights,” he said. “The hotels are ready to give special prices. I don’t want to reinvent the wheel. I want to do what Dubai did a few years ago when they had a problem, or what Egypt or Tunisia is doing now. You know you can spend a whole week in Tunisia now for €400 in a hotel plus the ticket.”
“I’m trying to start a revolution in this country,” Abboud said. “We are nearly not having any chartered flights coming in. You look at the tickets from Europe to this country and you find that a ticket from London to Beirut – that its probably twice the price of say London to Larnaca or London to Amman or Cairo. It’s very expensive. If we can fly someone from Europe return for €300 to €400 I think we can increase our tourism by 300,000 people at least.”
I must be honest, I tried looking for flights from London to Beirut to compare to London to Amman, and they were pretty much priced about the same.
Minister Abboud does acknowledge that the recent Arab Gulf travel warnings has harmed the Lebanese economy, though he doesn’t buy the security angle:
“Indeed they have affected us,” Abboud said when asked if the travel warnings have dissuaded people from visiting Lebanon. “I think it’s all politics – it has nothing to do with security issues. That is very clear. The Americans are not worried about the security of their people, [neither are] the Brits, the French, and the Europeans in general.”
Although Abboud believes his plan will revolutionize the tourism industry in Lebanon, he doesn’t seem too optimistic that it will be endorsed by the cabinet at tomorrow’s session:
“It’s a 50-50 chance,” Abboud said when asked if his proposal would be endorsed by the cabinet tomorrow. “I’m going to make the cabinet responsible,” he said, adding, “If you need tourists, we’re going to have to fly them in. We cannot fly a tourist at €1000 during this season and expect a lot of tourism.”
I, for one, have little faith in Lebanese governments regardless for which team they play for.