Stronger Saudi-Lebanese ties bode well for tourism
Written by Malek   

By NAJIA HOUSSARI

BEIRUT: Saudi tourism to Lebanon is tipped to increase after a boost in diplomatic ties between the two nations. In a visit to Lebanon last month by Thamer Al-Sabhan, Saudi minister for Arabian Gulf Affairs, the diplomat told President Michel Aoun that Saudi Arabian Airlines would increase its flights to Beirut. Lebanese-Saudi relations have been troubled in recent years as a result of the Syrian crisis. The Gulf countries earlier barred their citizens from traveling to Lebanon, while Saudi Arabia last year suspended $3 billion in military aid involving French arms to Lebanon. But President Aoun’s visit to Riyadh at the beginning of the year paved the way for restoring warm ties between the two nations, and Al-Sabhan’s visit to Beirut was perceived as “a complementary effort comfortably received by the Lebanese,” said Future Bloc MP Ammar Houri. “The Kingdom has always been keen to offer Lebanon help and support in all fields and arenas,” Houri said. “The Lebanese state’s proven ability to control security and fight terrorism combined with a warm welcome to our Saudi brothers constitutes favorable conditions for the Saudi comeback to Lebanon,” he said.

The head of the Lebanese Hotel Owners’ Association, Pierre Ashkar, has a similar view. He perceives Al-Sabhan’s visit as another positive step complementing President Aoun’s trip to the Kingdom. “The Gulf people, especially the Saudis, represent the backbone of tourism in Lebanon. Our country’s history is a witness to the importance of these relations which date from the second half of the last century to the present,” Ashkar said.
He thinks that further coordination between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia will be a critical factor in improving relations between them.
However, Ashkar doesn’t expect an immediate increase in the number of Saudi tourists. “Saudi tourists have not been coming to Lebanon for the last three or four years and they were previously in full swing for 365 days a year,” Ashkar said. “Now we have to wait a while before things get back to normal.”
“Some VIP Saudi tourists, though in small numbers, have visited Lebanon after being absent for a long time. They found that Lebanon was as welcoming as ever and the streets were not filled with garbage as the media had suggested.”


Economic expert Dr. Marwan Iskandar stressed that the visit by a Saudi minister indicated that the Kingdom was returning to comfortable relations with Lebanon. “Saudi trips to Lebanon are very significant, as there are many Saudis who have properties in Lebanon and the country is, after all, a desirable destination. And Lebanon suffered a great deal from the boycott by Arab nations, specially the Gulf ones, as a result of the Syrian crisis,” he said.