Arabs Lose Their Summer Playground
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
For many Arabs in the Middle East, the summer has been ruined. With Israel attacking Lebanon, Arab vacationers who each year head for the cool climate and luxuries of Beirut have been forced to reconsider their holiday plans.
Lebanon was expecting to host 1.6 million tourists in 2006, generating $4.4 billion and making it the most popular Middle Eastern tourist spot, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. The majority of that money was expected to be spent in the capital, Beirut.
However, with the ongoing Israeli military operations, it is not just the Lebanese economy that will be losing out. Beirut is no longer an option for the Arab tourists who flock to the entertainment hub of the Middle East.
“Everyone will be heartbroken over their summer vacations,” a New York Sun columnist based in Dubai, Youssef Ibrahim, said.
Beirut has always been the Arab world’s vacation destination of choice, a Middle Eastern studies scholar said.
“The city’s pleasant climate, its nice scenery, its close ties to the West, and its religiously and socially open nature has always meant that Arabians would go there for summer,” a professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern history at the University of California, Stephen Humphreys, said.
In 1975, civil war broke out in Lebanon, forcing Arabic tourists to vacation elsewhere.
“Istanbul became very popular instead,” Mr. Humphreys said.
Since the end of the war in 1990, in which areas of Beirut were reduced to rubble, the city has undergone a recovery. And with the declaration of the war on terror, Arabs, finding themselves alienated from the Western world, have begun returning to a resurgent Beirut, Mr. Ibrahim said.
To Arabs, Beirut now represents the advantages of both the West and the East.
“Beirut is called the Paris of the Middle East, assembling all the modernity of the West and the genuine flavor of the East,” Mr. Ibrahim said.
He described the city as an “idyllic place” with some of the “most scenic places, from the Mediterranean Sea to snow-covered mountains.”
“Summer is a pure delight,” he said. “The weather is clement, compared to the searing heat of the Persian Gulf.”
However, Beirut’s appeal goes further than the weather and the scenery, Mr. Ibrahim said. The city offers the “best cuisine in the Arab world,” along with a “liberal nightlife.” Alcohol is openly available and people go around scantily dressed — liberties that are uncommon in the rest of the region.
Now, more than 12,000 Arab tourists are said to be fleeing Lebanon for neighboring Syria, while hotels in Beirut say they are accommodating others. “Tourists are staying in the hotel at the moment, and they are safe,” a spokesman from the Crowne Plaza in Beirut said.
Despite the violence of the past week, the World Trade Organization said on its Web site that it is upbeat about the future of the Lebanese tourist industry, predicting it will generate $8.7 billion in 2016. The tourism industry is the biggest segment in Lebanon’s gross domestic product, making up 12% to 15% of its $27.3 billion gross domestic product.