Hotels have received permission to charge room rates in foreign currencies when the customer is a foreign visitor via a circular by the Ministry of Tourism – Visiting and resident citizens and foreign residents will continue to pay in lira.
The ministry said that more hard currencies will be injected into the economy thanks to this decision which also aims to encourage both inbound and domestic tourism.
Pierre Achkar, Chairman of the Syndicate of Tourism Organizations said that hotels will be able to use these fresh dollars to pay for expenses in foreign currencies instead of resorting to the black market. He said that local hotels have become cheaper than those in Jordan and Egypt. For example, his five-star Printania Palace Hotel, charges Lebanese nationals a room rate in lira of just LL400,000 ($31). He said that currently the majority of hotel clients are Lebanese.
Achkar said that they will charge foreign visitors a room rate of $50 which represents one third of their pre-crisis price of $150. He said the extra charge paid by foreign visitors is mainly due to additional expenses related to booking and bank fees. According to Achkar, most of foreign visitors book a hotel in Lebanon through the international travel website Booking.com which charges a 20 percent commission. Local banks have increased their fees on credit card payments from 1.7 percent-2.1 percent to six percent-seven percent and hotel owners will confront them regarding this decision, he said.
Foreign visitors usually pay by credit card especially that foreign currencies cannot be withdrawn from automated teller machines (ATMs). Most of foreign visitors are currently businesspeople and representatives of NGOs and international organizations in addition to some Arab nationals mainly from Iraq, Jordan, and Egypt.
According to Achkar, it is futile at the moment to launch a promotional campaign highlighting Lebanon as an inexpensive destination. The current political instability and potential social unrest dissuade many visitors who are influenced by information posted on social media that has tarnished the image of the country. Achkar said that tourism declined in Cyprus and Greece during their financial crises nearly a decade ago, despite cheaper prices. “Anyway the local hospitality business was booming in the past even when the country was one of the most expensive destinations in the world,” he said.