After the hotels and restaurants, it is the retail industry that is feeling the effects of the current economic strain,” says Nicholas Chammas, head of the Lebanese Traders Association.
The retail industry in Lebanon depends heavily on Arab tourists and has suffered the effect of their decreased numbers this summer.
“During the good summers, we used to have an average of five Arabs daily entering our shop. This year we are lucky if we see five a month,” says a salesperson in Nine West’s Verdun branch. Walking through downtown Beirut, one quickly notices the unusual quietness relative to previous summers, and though there are a few shoppers strolling around, it appears no one is buying.
Numbers obtained from the tax free shopping services company Global Blue show there was an overall decrease in visitor refunds between the first quarter of 2012 and the second. Syria was one of the few countries whose percentage of spending evolution went up in the second quarter of 2012, which is likely the result of the increased number of Syrians fleeing the violence in their country.
While there was an undeniable economic setback this summer, major retail companies declined from commenting on difficulties they might be facing. Small shop owners in Hamra and Fern El Shebak, traditionally busy shopping areas especially during the summer, spoke freely of the lack of activity in the market, the decline in their sales and of the extended discount periods they hoped would encourage shoppers to spend, but to no avail.
“There are no tourists to buy, and we cannot depend on the Lebanese residing in the country as they barely have enough money to eat, let alone shop. There is basically no way forward until the political situation improves,” said one shop owner in Hamra, summing up the feelings of many in the industry.