The Lebanese tourism sector is a key driver of economic growth and job-creation. While real estate and construction constituted 19.2% of Lebanon’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as per CAS, tourism’s total contribution, direct and indirect, reached 18.4% of GDP (the equivalent of $9.3B), creating around 365,500 jobs (17.9% of total employment) in 2017 and an estimated 387,000 jobs by end 2018 according to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC).
The rebound witnessed in the number of tourists by Sept. 2018 remained frail and capped below 2010’s levels. While the number of passengers at Beirut International Airport hit 6.9M travelers by the end of Q3 2018, adding an annual 9.83%, the total number of tourist arrivals increased by a yearly 3.88% to reach 1.50M tourists by summer 2018. Nevertheless, the improvement was incremental compared to the 11.3% annual growth rate recorded in Q3 2010 when 1.69M tourists were welcomed. In addition, the recovery in tourist arrivals masked a deterioration in the number of Arab tourists, occupancy rates in 4- and 5-star hotels, and in the spending of Gulf visitors – as will be explored hereafter.
The diminishing share of Arab travelers from total tourists is a new trend altering the dynamics of the tourism sector. Arabs are Lebanon’s largest incomers; yet, the increase in the total number of tourists in summer 2018 came on the back of a slump in the number of tourists from the Arab countries while the number of European and American visitors hit 8-year highs by Sept. 2018. Regionally, the Arab states including the Gulf nations suffered from an economic slowdown during the first months of 2018.
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