Lebanon waives visas for Gulf residents
Travel agents say move is bid to promote tourism
Gulf residents are now able to enter Lebanon without a visa following a decision to loosen border policies for Gulf tourists in certain employment categories, the country’s tourism ministry said.
The move, announced last week by the country’s tourism minister, opens the door to Gulf residents of all nationalities working in fields including law, medicine and engineering and general business.
Travel agents say the decision is an opportunistic move to capitalise on Lebanon’s image as a safe haven, after the country largely sidestepped the wave of Arab Spring unrest.
“Lebanon is obviously looking to take advantage of the fact that there is unrest in many tourism spots around the region, and the fact that for a change Lebanon seems to be having some stability,” said Leo Fewtrell, general manager of Dubai Travel and Tour Agents Group.
“It’s an opportunistic move from them. In this region, safety is paramount, if people don’t believe a place is safe they are not going to go. They are trying to show that Lebanon is much safer at the moment.”
Tourism in the Middle East has been severely hit by widespread political unrest in popular travel destinations such as Tunisia and Egypt.
Bookings to Syria have tumbled 40 percent, according to travel agents, whilst Egypt is estimated to have lost $1.8bn from its tourism industry between February 1 and April 5 alone.
Travel agents said Lebanon hoped to bolster tourism figures in the run-up to the holy month of Ramadan, which often sees Gulf nationals restrict their travel to nearby Arab states.
“Lebanon is going through a difficult economic time in the midst of the regional turbulence's,” said Basel Abu Alrub, general manager of Dubai-based travel agency U Travel.
“The government has to take some steps in order to invigorate the economy. One of these steps includes opening up its borders to GCC residents. GCC residents are of relatively high disposable income, and so from a tourism perspective, it is in Lebanon's best interests to attract them to visit and spend in the country.
“This will impact positively on the economy and, in turn, reflect an impression of increased political stability and image of heightened public safety.”
In Europe, governments have implemented similar schemes to increase tourist numbers.
As of July, Ireland waived visa requirements for individuals from 15 nationalities, including citizens from Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE.
“It saves [tourists] money, as it can be quite expensive for locals and their families to get visas,” said Fewtrell. “And it is more convenient for them. GCC locals in particular don’t like sending their passports off to visa offices.”
By Elizabeth Broomhall.