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Lebanon plans to reopen airport in bid to boost tourism

Lebanon plans to reopen airport in bid to boost tourism

The crisis-stricken economy is in dire need of tourism dollars but it continues to be plagued by protests and a weakened tourism sector.

In a meeting with tourism sector representative, Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab promised that the country’s sole airport will be reopened for passengers by early July. The Beirut-Rafic Hariri International Airport will initially operate at a reduced capacity of 10-20%, receiving flights from the Gulf countries, specifically those that are conducting coronavirus tests.

Tourism is critical to the Lebanese economy, accounting for almost 18% of its GDP and wealthy Arab travellers make up more than 30% of their annual tourist traffic.

But the sector has been one of the worst affected, even before the coronavirus completely shut down trade. The crashing lire had also led to the closure of many tourism-related businesses.

Lebanon is the grip of one of its worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war, rooted in corruption, government mismanagement and the war in neighbouring Syria. More than 35% of Lebanese are unemployed, while 45% of the population is poor. Additionally, Lebanon is burdened with massive debt to the tune of 170% of its GDP.

The economic situation has brought thousands of protests, across the sectarian divide, to the streets since October last year and even brought down the government. Even as the government makes plans to revive the tourism sector, mass protests are returning to Beirut’s streets with easing of lockdowns.

Hundreds of citizens arrived at the protest hub of Martyrs Square at the centre of Beirut to demand better management of the economy. Skirmishes broke out both between the protests and with the security forces, who fired tear gas on the crowd. Forty-eight people were injured in the resulting violence.

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