A worker is seen at a closed ski resort due to the lack of snow in north of Beirut, Lebanon, March 7, 2014. Reuters/Mohamed Azakir
The mountains north of Beirut, usually a snowy winter playground for skiers and other tourists, are brown, muddy and completely empty this season.
Hotel rooms lie vacant and winter sports rental shops are idle, with the lack of snow deterring even the keenest visitors. An unseasonably warm and dry winter – the mildest in decades by most accounts – has also endangered the harvest of vineyards which export prize-winning Lebanese wines around the world.
Along with worsening security problems and political gridlock, the fickle weather has exacerbated a three-year drop in tourism in this small Mediterranean country. Before the conflict in neighboring Syria erupted in 2011, the sector generated about 10% of economic output.
“This is the first time the slopes have not opened at all,” said Joost Komen, general manager of Intercontinental Mzaar, the largest hotel and ski lodge in Faraya.
“That there is limited snow, it happens. But that there is absolutely no snow? No, this has never happened.”
Komen told Reuters revenues were down more than 80 percent, directly affecting around 600 families dependent on hotel jobs. Ski instructors, rental shops and other businesses that benefit from seasonal activity have also taken a severe blow.
“God forbid we have another year like this. If it happens again, you’ll see many shops shutting down,” said one vendor, sitting in a parking lot full of idle all-terrain vehicles.
An early snowstorm in December battered the Middle East with high winds and dropped around 30cm of white powder in Faraya. Many thought it was a harbinger of a long and cold winter to come. Aid agencies worried about hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees living in crude shelters at high altitudes.
But that first snowfall was not enough to open the slopes. There has been almost no precipitation since. Though it could still snow in March or even April, the damage has been done.
“What happened in January and February is gone. This is money unrecoverable,” Komen said.
Marwan Barakat, chief economist at Bank Audi, said those two months witnessed a decline in arrivals at Beirut airport, one of few metrics available for analysing the tourism sector.
“This is probably due to some tourism foregone because of the adverse winter conditions,” he said.