Lebanon’s summer travel activity is in full swing.
Jean Abboud, president of the Association of Travel & Tourist Agents in Lebanon, acknowledged that the travel and tourism sector still needs another year to fully return to its pre-crisis levels of activity, but expressed optimism.
While the number of visitors to Lebanon could exceed 1.8 million this summer, Lebanese citizens with access to fresh dollars are also getting ready to pack their luggage.
What are the most popular destinations this summer? What do the figures show compared with recent years? L’Orient-Le Jour takes stock based on data provided by travel agencies, as well as figures provided by the Lebanese Civil Aviation Authority.
Turkey remains in the lead
“We have offers for every possible destination, but the Lebanese are turning to Turkey for their holidays, especially this year,” said Abboud.
Travel agencies agree that Turkey looks great, especially for its top destinations: Antalya, Istanbul, Bodrum and Marmaris.
Figures from Beirut International Airport show that Turkey, one of the main transit countries linking Lebanon to Europe, was chosen by 17.53 percent of Lebanese passengers in June alone.
Why does Turkey attract so many summer visitors? First, Lebanese citizens can travel there without a visa.
“Many travel plans to Europe have fallen through because obtaining a Schengen [visa] is conditional on the presentation of a bank account statement, something that continues to be a problem,” said Christine Ayash, a consultant at Barakat Travel agency.
Speaking to L’Orient-Le Jour, a manager at VFS Global (Visa Facilitation Services) who handles visa applications for certain European countries, underlined that foreign embassies are exclusively empowered to grant visas.
“We are not in a position to know how the bank account statements impact this decision,” he added.
A second appeal of Turkey is the ability to play on a limited budget.
“It’s the ideal destination for a family vacation, and it doesn’t cost much more than a getaway to a guest house or a chalet in Lebanon if you take into account the prices of gasoline, food and activities,” said Samir Khayat, 35, who is traveling to Turkey this summer.
According to Beirut International Airport figures, Turkey was chosen by 15.19 percent of passengers during the summer of 2018 and saw a peak of 23.06 percent in 2020, likely due to its less-severe COVID-19 restrictions.
What about other destinations?
Whether for tourism or work, the United Arab Emirates has continued to be a second-place destination for at least the last six years.
Iraq (9.15 percent), Saudi Arabia (9.13 percent), France (8.15 percent), Egypt (6.97 percent), Germany (6.8 percent), Qatar (4.64 percent), Jordan (4.22 percent) and Greece (3.16 percent) were the most visited countries in June 2023, according to Beirut International Airport. However, its not clear whether these countries were final destinations or transit points.
Ethiopia and the United Kingdom, which were among the top 10 for Lebanese in 2020 and 2021, dropped out of this year’s rankings.
According to travel agencies, other destinations not included in the civil aviation rankings but popular among summer travelers include Cyprus, Bali and Tanzania.
Despite coming in fifth place, France — ranked third or fourth most visited summer destination by Lebanese citizens since 2018, according to Beirut airport figures — is still one of the most cherished European destinations.
Greece also made a strong comeback this summer. Although it was only the 10th most visited country in June 2023, the country is highly popular despite the high cost of its hotels, said Abboud.
… and the budget?
“People who had big budgets before 2019 still travel, but try to save money in other ways,” said Christelle Majdalani, director of Nakhal travel agency in Dubai and charged with the agency’s business development in Beirut. “For example, [they might save money] by avoiding five-star hotels.”
Lebanese travelers seem to agree.
“I have already done domestic tourism for the past few years due to the pandemic,” said Gaelle Lameh, 26. “This summer, I am traveling to France and then to Spain. Food is cheaper than in Lebanon, and there is a wide variety of affordable [guesthouses] to rent.”
“The biggest expense remains the ticket, especially the return ticket, due to the taxes imposed by the Beirut airport,” added Lameh.
According to data from Beirut International Airport given to L’Orient-Le Jour, the total number of passengers exiting and entering Lebanon between June and September 2023 is estimated to be 3,127,572.
This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour. Translation by Joelle El Khoury.