Just days after the UAE lifted its ban on its citizens traveling to Lebanon, local airlines are gearing up to cater to the expected increase in travelers to Beirut. One travel company focusing on the newly reopened market is Etihad Airways, which earlier this week announced it will be increasing capacity for flights between Abu Dhabi and Lebanon.
Starting Oct. 27, Etihad's current daily Airbus A321 service to Beirut is going to be upgraded to a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner which can carry more passengers.
"When Etihad was launched in November 2003, Beirut was our first very first scheduled destination. Following the announcement yesterday that travel restrictions between these markets will be lifted, we moved quickly to increase our capacity to meet an expected increase in passenger and cargo demand, and to allocate our newest aircraft and product to the route," Etihad Aviation Group's Chief Commercial Officer Robin Kamark explained.
The airline will operate the upgraded flights via two-class Boeing 787-9s, the newest aircraft model to join Etihad's fleet.
The jets' passenger capacity stands at 299 seats with 28 business studios and 271 economy smart seats. The planes will also provide an increase in cargo capacity.
While no similar move has been made by either of the two other UAE carriers, Emirates Airline and FlyDubai, both travel companies continue to operate their services to Lebanon.
UAE's ban lift on travel to Lebanon came during Lebanese PM Saad Hariri's visit to Abu Dhabi
The ban lift was announced by the UAE's Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation hours after Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri visited Abu Dhabi.
The emirate's Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan received PM Hariri and a Lebanese delegation on Monday. The delegation to the UAE sought support for Lebanon's ailing economy, with hopes of persuading the Gulf nation to inject cash into Banque Du Liban — Lebanon's central bank.
While it remains unclear whether Lebanon will see a cash injection from the UAE government into its central bank, it will at least see Emiratis visiting the country. The move to lift the ban on travel to Lebanon was applauded by Lebanese officials, particularly in light of the nation's ongoing economic woes.
"First, this step will lead to the return of Emirati tourists, and secondly it will encourage the return of UAE investments, which in turn will increase tourism spending," Lebanese Minister of Tourism, Avedis Guidanian, said in a statement.
The UAE isn't the only Gulf country that has banned citizens from traveling to Lebanon in recent years, as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have taken similar moves.
The Gulf states have also regularly expressed concern over the political climate in Lebanon, which is bordered by war-torn Syria and whose government includes Iran-backed Hezbollah group.
In November 2017, the UAE urged its citizens to avoid traveling to Lebanon over concerns of "instability." Several members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) had warned their citizens against visiting the Mediterranean country at the time, following a series of events that saw Hariri temporarily resign from office.
In April 2019, Lebanon was listed among the countries Emiratis are banned from visiting "due to political reasons." It is now off the list for the time being.