‘Global confidence in Lebanon needs to be re-established’

Rotana Hotels’ Daniel Hajjar, corporate vice-president, sales and marketing, chats with TTN
The Gefinor Rotana Hotel in Lebanon

Do you see the Lebanese tourism market recovering substantially enough to merit continuing with new hotel development?
Unfortunately, Lebanon is used to a state of crisis.

It is a little difficult to predict what will happen in the short term, however at this stage, ‘survival’ is the key word. Once the political situation gets clearer, the country will undoubtedly bounce back. The road will definitely be long, very long. Infrastructure will need to be rebuilt and global confidence needs to be re-established. Assuming there is no more aggression, I believe that we may see a slight movement during Eid, followed by a stronger number of arrivals over the Christmas/ Eid Al Adha period, mainly from Lebanese expatriates and GCC nationals eager to visit the country again. The real test will be next summer.
As a result, projects that are under development will go ahead as the investors cannot back-track at this stage and ultimately the situation will improve in the long term. Projects that were only on the drawing board may get delayed. This, obviously, will depend on the financial situation of individual owners and how affected they were as a result of the conflict.

Obviously, the investors should be coming back now?
We are eager to see the arrival of the UN troops as this will boost global confidence and foreign travellers will slowly but surely return to Beirut. The sad part of this conflict is that business opportunities in the rebuilding of the infrastructure will thrive and everyone will be anxious to take a piece of it, and because of this, foreign business people will be the first to move in.

So your third property in Lebanon, the Raouché Rotana Suites, remains on track? What challenges lie ahead?
Rotana will go ahead with the opening of the Raouché Rotana Suites. We were in the final stages of construction. Our team is currently in meetings with the owners to assess the situation but I understand they are eager to move ahead. One of the challenges could be the work force. We will probably face a delay but should be ready to welcome our guests by the end of the first quarter of 2007. The property, due to its location, positioning and facilities is expected to perform well. But once again, it all depends on how the country as a whole is developing.

How are your other Rotana properties doing? What have you heard from your management there in terms of recovery?
The Gefinor Rotana Hotel was operating almost as normal. It became ‘home’ to several Lebanese who opted to stay in hotels and to various organizations that moved to the country. Guests and staff were ‘one team’ and were all keen to get through this sad and challenging period.
The Hazmieh Rotana Hotel had to close down due to its proximity to the South suburb of Beirut. Today, it has re-opened and life has started to return to normal.