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French Version

Lebanese tourism will recover

New man on the job, Wadih Khazen, is confident sector will weather Hariri bombing fallout

Lebanon's new tourism minister downplayed concerns over the fate of the Lebanese tourism industry Wednesday while touring hotels devastated by the massive explosion that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

On a visit to five seafront hotels that were heavily damaged in the attack, Tourism Minister Wadih Khazen marveled over fallen ceilings and obliterated glass facades, maintaining, however, that it would take less than a month for the industry to recover.

"There is no long-term damage. There is immediate damage that will be covered very soon. I foresee 15, 20, 25 days at the utmost, and everything will recover and tourism, hopefully, will return back to normal and maybe better," he told the Daily Star after his first stop at the Monroe Hotel.

Pierre Achkar, owner of the Monroe and president of the Lebanese Hotel Owners Syndicate estimated the total cost of the attack for area hotels would amount to at least $60 million. Achkar said physical repairs on the Monroe alone - including the replacement of windows, furniture, electronics and drop ceilings - would cost approximately $2 million.

Ruling out loans, Khazen said the government was prepared to provide assistance, but he stopped short of promising any specific plans: "The government will not be reluctant to do anything. It will be on the spot ready to help and facilitate the recovery of the tourist industry in Lebanon and very soon I hope."

Khazen took office after former Tourism Minister Farid Khazen resigned last week saying the government is no longer capable of running the country.

The new minister said he was confident the attack on Hariri's motorcade, which was bombed in the heart of the re-emerging hotel district, would not dissuade tourists from coming here: "Everyone in the ministry is on stand-by to give the true ... picture of tourism in Lebanon, and everybody loves Lebanon overseas. They will return to Lebanon and very soon."

The damage appeared to be most acute at the historic Phoenicia Inter-Continental Hotel, which was rebuilt in 2000 at a cost of around $100 million after being burned and gutted in the 1975-90 civil war. The blast from Hariri's assassination blew nearly every window frame off the multi-tower complex, which is expected to reopen between mid-March and early June.

Sporting a florescent response team vest, Pascal Gauvin, director of operations for the Inter-Continental Hotels Group in Lebanon, also brushed off concerns over the long-term ramifications of the attack. He said the hotel was insured for damages, which he estimated at tens of millions of dollars.

"People have business here. There is a business community that will come back, that needs to come back, and also you know people forget very quickly," said Gauvin, who oversees operations in five international hotels across the country.

"Unfortunately people in this region are used to forgetting quickly and every day there is other news coming - other news from other countries around us. If this incident is the final one and there is no other incident coming in the future, then I'm very confident this summer will be very good, and we have bookings coming up already," he said.

Beirut,02 27 2005
Habib Battah
The Daily Star
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