Mired in crises, Lebanon hopes summer arrivals bring relief

NIHA, Lebanon (AP). Chafik Mershad, 69, pulls out a huge rectangular guestbook from a village in Lebanon's picturesque Chouf Mountains and reads it out depressingly. It shows the date he last hosted a visitor, Nov. 16, 2019.One month prior, protests against the government erupted across the country in protest of taxes and a worsening currency crisis. In the midst of such uncertainty, very few people visited his guesthouse. The coronavirus, which was then followed by government-imposed lockdowns, prompted the closure of his guesthouse. In February 2020, the guesthouse was officially closed. He still doesn't plan to reopen the guesthouse a year and a quarter later due to the current financial crisis in Venezuela.Corona really affected us but the most important thing was the currency crisis, Mershad stated, speaking at his house above the guesthouse. For a very low price, we used to serve meals to guests with Nescafe and tea. One hamburger patt costs this much today.This Mediterranean nation is known for its good food, beaches, and mountain resorts. The hospitality sector has been devastated by the pandemic as well as a financial crisis. Many businesses including guesthouses such as the Mershad Guesthouse were forced to close.However, pandemic restrictions are being relaxed and businesses that survived can hope for the dollars they spent visiting Lebanese expats. Also, an increase in domestic tourist will help get the economy moving again.Most hotel reservations currently come from Lebanese expats, as well as some foreigners from Egypt, Jordan, and neighboring Iraq. Airport arrivals are increasing: Since the beginning of this year, Beirut Airport has seen four flights from Iraq every day with over 700 passengers. Jean Abboud is the president of the Travel and Tourist Agents Union. As people throng the arrivals lounge to take the mandatory PCR test, it has been reported that there have been chaotic scenes.Many Lebanese, who used to vacation abroad in the summer, are turning to domestic tourism. Because of restrictions on travel, dollar trapped in banks and the lack of working credit cards, it's more practical.Continue the storyThe country has undergone a radical transformation in the last two years. The country is no longer a destination to enjoy nightlife, city tourism or for the things people used to know. Joumana Brihi (board member of the Lebanese Mountain Trail Association) said that there is more interest among the Lebanese in traveling within their country. The association maintains a hiking trail that runs for 290 miles (470 km) across the country.Many industry professionals believe that domestic tourists have increased since April's lifting of the country's lockdown. Expats will be spending and piling up this summer, despite the instability. This is partly due to the weakening Lebanese Pound.Maya Noun (general secretary of the syndicate) said that this will prevent many places from closing down, or at the very least, prolong the lives of some businesses.The currency of Lebanon has lost over 90% of its value since October 2019. It trades at 17,000 Lebanese dollars to the dollar on black market. Official exchange rates remain at 1,507 pounds per dollar.Michel Daher, Member of Parliament, was last year criticized on social media after he said on TV that Lebanon was really cheap because of its crumbling currency.Daher said that people laughed at me back then. We want foreigners, even though there are many Lebanese expats moving to Lebanon because of the high prices.The scene on the ground is not a picturesque getaway destination. Private generators were also shut down for hours because of power cuts. The country is suffering from a shortage in vital products such as medicine and gasoline.Over the past weeks, frustrated citizens have been queuing up to fill up at gas stations. There have been occasional fights and shootings among frayed nerves. With sectarian tensions rising, Lebanon seems ready to burst. More than half of the population is in poverty.The currency crash in Lebanon has caused a stark schism between those who are financially secure and those who can withdraw money from banks.After being closed last year due to the pandemic, resorts in Batroun and Byblos continue to be packed. Bars, restaurants, and rooftop bars are bustling again. Some mountain guesthouses are full.However, the notion that expats can help the economy is partly misleading, according to Mike Azar, a Beirut-based financial advisor. While foreign dollars from tourists are always a good thing, does it affect the currency's appreciation or decline? You can't really say that.Many expats are unsure whether they should visit Lebanon. Many people yearn to reunite with their families after being separated for so many years due to the pandemic. Some are unwilling to take the risk.Joe Rizk is a 20-year old mechanical engineering student at UMass Lowell, the U.S., from Damour on the coast. He said that his family convinced him to return for August. He promised to bring medicine, such as Advil, with him to his family and friends.He stated that he will not spend more $300 to $400 per month, even if he was going every night at a club, restaurant or bar. He also said that he would use the family home and car while in Lebanon.Hala al-Hachem (a 37-year-old assistant manager at a Massachusetts bank) said that she was too afraid to travel to Lebanon with her two children, 8 and 6. She is originally from south Lebanon and used to go back with her family every summer.This is not the time.Do I really want to travel there? I don't want to risk my sons getting sick or needing to be admitted to hospital. She asked if I wanted my sons to wonder why there was no electricity at night.