Lebanon's ministry launches 1735 hotline for tourists

As summer approaches and tourism in Lebanon is expected to spike

People are seen watching waves at the seaside in Beirut, Lebanon December 25, 2017.

People are seen watching waves at the seaside in Beirut, Lebanon December 25, 2017.

REUTERS/ Jamal Saidi

BEIRUT: As summer approaches and tourism in Lebanon is expected to spike, the Interior Ministry has launched a new tourist hotline to assist travelers who are involved in accidents or have questions during their stay. The new, multilingual hotline can be reached by dialing 1735, and will field calls from affected tourists and, if necessary, “security forces can take appropriate action,” Interior Minister Raya El Hassan said on Twitter Wednesday.

Visitors can, for example, make complaints related to being overcharged by sellers, a hotline operator who belongs to the Tourist Police told The Daily Star Wednesday.

However, if visitors fall victim to a crime, he said they should also use the designated emergency numbers to report it.

Earlier this month, Hassan had told the Saudi daily Okaz that the Interior and Tourism ministries were working to prepare the hotline and issue a memo to municipalities across Lebanon to make preparations for tourists expected to arrive this summer.

The ministries’ coordination comes as Tourism Minister Avedis Guidanian said he expected a significant number of Arab and other foreign tourists to visit the country during the summer, especially after Saudi Arabia in February lifted a 15-month warning for its citizens against traveling to Lebanon.

Saudi Ambassador Walid Bukhari told the Lebanese Central News Agency in April that some 300,000 Saudi tourists were expected to travel to Lebanon this year.

To better manage the increase in tourists that is expected over the summer period, an expansion project is underway at Beirut airport that will facilitate travel to and from Lebanon.

The project will increase security counters in the departures section from 22 to 34, and in the arrivals section from 32 to 46, which Hassan said during a tour of the airport Wednesday would significantly reduce holdups at the airport. An airport source told The Daily Star that the counters should open in the beginning of June.

Hassan said the project, which is being funded using 3.5 million euros ($3.9 million) of the 150 million euros pledged at last year’s CEDRE conference, is vital to the safety of Lebanon and its travelers.

“It is true that Lebanon has been successful in fighting the threat of terrorism, [but] it does not mean it is completely eliminated,” she said.

The airport is also introducing a new fast-track system for first- and business-class passengers, which is part of a plan financed by the World Bank and is expected to cost about $8 million. According to Hassan, the system will speed up the passport and luggage inspection process for about 20 percent of passengers and alleviate backups.

Airport sources previously said that the new system would fast-track 1.5 million to 2 million passengers and frequent flyers a year through the main terminal.

Travelers passing through Beirut often suffer long delays, as passenger numbers frequently exceed its capacity of 6 million a year. In 2018, 1.2 million people traveled through the airport in the month of August alone.

Wednesday, EU Ambassador Christina Lassen and other European diplomats accompanied Hassan on her tour of the project.

Following the tour, the delegation released a statement saying that the airport’s infrastructure was “becoming more and more important” because of the increased numbers of visitors and threats to civil aviation “in the context of persisting regional tensions.”

To this end, the delegation said the EU was providing staff training, simulation equipment and sniffer dogs to ensure the airport has the same capabilities as other airports. Some airport personnel will also participate in “expert exchanges and study visits” to European airports.

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