'Some 30,000 tourists from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates arrived via Syria on Sunday,' an official at the Masnaa border checkpoint told the German Press Agency, dpa. The Ministry of Tourism expects 2 million Arabs and other nationalities to come by the end of 2009. 'This will be a record,' said tourism ministry director Nada Sardouk. About 1.3 million tourists visited Lebanon in 2008, up 30 per cent from the previous year, the ministry's records show. An official at Beirut International Airport told dpa that planes are arriving packed with tourists from Gulf states. 'I can say people are flocking into the country to spend their summer vacations, and our airport staff are working around the clock to speed up their entry,' he said. The tourism boom is visible in the capital's hotels, beach resorts and restaurants.
Pierre Achkar, head of Lebanon's Hotel Association, said occupancy in most hotels in Beirut reached to 90 per cent in mid-July. Car rental owners are also delighted with business. 'This is a season the likes of which we have never witnessed before,' said Ali Chabani, owner of a taxi and car rental firm. I can say Beirut is reclaiming its position as the Jewel of the Middle East for tourists from he Arab world and Europe,' Sardouk said. This year's summer festivals, which include famous names like rock group Deep Purple, have also added to the attractions for visitors. Nada Attayeh, a Jordanian national, said she came to Lebanon to see her favourite group perform in the ancient city of Baalbeck.
'I bought my tickets two months ago to watch Deep Purple play on July 25. At the same time I came to enjoy the nightlife in Beirut,' she said. Famous bars and restaurants are crowded with visitors who usually stay well into the night, dancing and enjoying the music. 'We are fully booked every day until the end of September,' a waiter at the famous open-air dance club Sky Bar told dpa. La Creperie restaurant located at the sea front of Kaslik overlooking the bay of Jounieh is also receving many tourists daily from European countries, Arab, Americas and Australia has informed us their manager: "It is just different from any other previous year where tourists are not only the Lebanese from aborad but it is Arabs, Europeans Americans from all over"
'A good summer season would help the economy, which has suffered several setbacks in the past three years,' economic expert Louis Hobeika told dpa.
'The two summers following the 2006 Lebanon war were both marred by a turbulent political crisis, with the bloody fighting in Nahr al- Bared in 2007 and the May 7 clashes between the rival Lebanese groups of last year ... Those events managed to scare away visitors,' he said.
But Hobeika expected Lebanon to witness a b oom despite the political uncertainty and the repercussions of the global financial crisis.
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