The Cedar Road in Bcharre lacks the traffic that it has used to traffic during this period of the year. The general closure imposed on the country due to the outbreak of the Corona pandemic deprived the town of Al-Arz and its vicinity of the “white gold” season that the people of the region await from one winter to another.
Antique shops are lined up from the town of Hasroun to the town of Bcharre and all the way to Al-Arz, in northern Lebanon, closing their doors to everything that their owners have invested for this season. The famous Cedar Forest, the holiest political and tourist symbol of the country, lies alone empty of its visitors, its surroundings are completely closed, except for the rare cafes that have closed their seating places, and they only continue to provide some food to the people of the region and very few of its visitors.
The ski runs are completely empty, and this sport is prohibited until further notice. A checkpoint of the Internal Security Forces checks curfew permits at the entrance to the tourist area of the town of Al-Arz, and asks where people are going to prevent gatherings and impose public closures. Only hotels and “chalets” are permitted destinations after a number of Lebanese, groups and families, visited them to spend the quarantine period away from cities.
A catastrophic season
The mayor of Bcharre and the president of the Lebanese Ski Federation, Freddy Keyrouz, describe this season as “catastrophic”, as it “ended before it began, and there was a great loss and the interests of the Cedars are absent. Whoever has not closed his interest after all the crises that happened in Lebanon,” He prepared himself for this season and waited to make up for his past losses. ”
“People bought their goods, especially equipment and snow clothes, according to the new prices in Lebanon and outside it,” he added, “but the season did not start, and here instead of the damage being limited to stopping their business, the matter turned into” heavy losses. ”
“We don’t know where to get the blows from,” says Kawkab, the owner of a café next to the Cedar Forest. “It is forbidden to call it a season. First of all, the snow itself was long overdue this year, and on the same day that the snow arrived, the country’s general closure was declared due to the spread of a pandemic. Corona, and the human district has received a large share of the outbreak, and people are prevented from roaming.
Kawkab explains to Al-Hurra website how she was relying on the winter tourism season to secure the expenses for the rest of the year. She says: “The winter of 2020 passed by us, then its summer. Today is almost over, the winter of 2021 did not work for three seasons. We witnessed a revolution and an economic and political collapse, then a pandemic extended Corona over two seasons. ”
She points out that “all that we produce today is our livelihood on the same day, and if we remain in this state we will close our interests. We have owed rents, workers and employees that we do not want to dispense with, but we may have to do so if we are no longer able to secure their pensions, for a year and a half without work in which it doubled.” Prices are five and six times, and the state knows nothing but crises breeding and imposing closures. No one asked us how to eat and we did not receive any assistance or strategy that would allow us to work and secure our expenses. ”
Only Al-Saj works in Kawkab Café. Goods and mortar are piled inside after there are no customers outside, and nothing has been dispensed. She tells how she was forced to delete some of the foods she was serving on the menu, such as pepperoni and lamb, after pricing them according to the new prices became “a matter of shame to us and the customers.”
“Even the agricultural season this year was idle,” affirms Keyrouz, adding, “The people who planted winter and summer crops could not spend their production. I do not know how families live and are still resilient. Some of the financiers provide aid and the expatriates from the region finance their families with a small part.”
State failed rescue attempts
Kayrouz, along with most of the administrations of the ski centers in Lebanon, from Cedar to Faraya, Kfardebian, Zaarour and others, since November, tried to remedy the crisis before it occurred and save the ski season. Among the people, and we relied on international studies and approved standards in ski centers in Switzerland and several countries, they continued to receive people according to preventive controls without being completely closed.
“We were promised goodness by the Ministry of Tourism, but we were surprised that we were not included in the opening permits that were given to several areas in the country. At the same time, we accepted equality with all countries that closed pending the reopening after 10 days, to renew the closure again without including us.” The decision to open for the second time. Waiting for permission, the ski season is flying. ”
He said, “If they had conducted a real review of the initiative, they would not be able to say that the ski stations may pose a health crisis or a danger, but they did not take the matter from an economic and humanitarian standpoint, as the people of the region depend on 65 percent of their annual income on the ski season.” Bushra works on teaching skiing during the winter holidays, so he can secure more than half of his university expenses and costs. Today, no one has benefited from this season and the families ’income has decreased.
One of the owners of the “Skido” rental business secretly works by avoiding the general closure decision and from the eyes of the security forces, and for this reason he refuses to reveal his name. Daily at closing time.
During the conversation with him, he sees that the sector suffers from great injustice, and says: “Skiing is not like other sports, its character is individual and saves large areas, it may be safer than homes, but they insist on equality in closing all sectors, equating to the disaster instead of saving what is possible Save it, especially this region and this sector, which represents a special symbolism and a first front for Lebanon, and with these random policies they taught us to lie and circumvent the law to secure our daily sustenance, as I cannot say to my children that I cannot feed you because of Corona.
He added, “The state must assume its responsibility, either to help, or to leave us to work. All right is with those who went to the streets objecting in the past period, so the ease of our living is no longer acceptable.”
Hotels are not in better shape
In the same context, hotels are accused of being the only entity that worked during the quarantine period, but the reality is different. The townspeople and the owners of the town who do not own hotels in the first place realize that. The same disaster struck hotels, chalets and restaurants “alike.”
Elie Rahma, the owner of one of the famous hotels in the region, assures to Al-Hurra that “the hotels are still operating at prices last summer, while the talk about their fullness is pure rumors.
He says: “We cannot receive with all our energy originally, due to the Corona pandemic and to prevent overcrowding, and we can hardly secure the cost of operating the hotel between employees, supplies, cleaning, service, heating and diesel, and sometimes the cost exceeds the profits. We try to hold out to pass this stage and preserve our customers, no more.” No less. ”
Both Rahma and Kayrouz confirm that the demand that occurred during the quarantine period was on private chalets, not hotels, as it is rumored. They rent annually and their customers become like residents in this region, they do not depend on the tourist season and revive the market and do not spend their money in the region as they do Foreign or domestic tourists coming to spend specific days. ”
Even for hotel-goers, Rahma explains that they are not customers of the ski season, “Even the quality of tourists is different. No longer do athletes and wealthy people come to the area to practice skiing, but rather citizens fleeing the general closure and their homes in cities to the districts of nature. Under the curfew, most of them are families or friends in small numbers. ”
To come late .. it’s okay
Lebanon awaits in the coming days a new snowstorm, according to meteorological forecasts, which may not be the last for this season, especially in light of the climate fluctuations it is witnessing. The people of the Cedars should rely on them to prolong their season and make up for what they missed, and to raise the level of snow accumulation on the ski slopes that are still below their annual rates.
Kayrouz says: “Opening the season now is better than never opening,” there is still snow, and we can organize the sector to suit health developments, and we appeal to the state to take the matter into consideration without fear of crowding people and overcrowding, as the economic situation will not allow crowding of people whose money is being held. In banks, only a few are able to afford domestic tourism and skiing, and they have to rely on us, and in the event that the season opens, we will find a formula to reduce prices and encourage visiting the region to revive it, as we do not want profit these days, we only want to pay the costs and withstand. ”