Fresh off a controversial statement that it will only accept payments in U.S. Dollars, a decision which was quickly revoked, Middle East Airlines (MEA) has announced that it will stop ticket sales at its offices and branches; a MEA’s source told The Daily Star on Wednesday, February 26th.
The decision was reportedly taken after a meeting held this week between Prime Minister Hassan Diab, Minister of Tourism Ramzi Msharrafieh, Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh, and Middle East Airline’s Chairman Mohammad Al-Hout.
Based on the official statement from the Prime Minister’s office, the group discussed the future and status of Lebanon’s tourism sector, airlines as well as its travel agencies.
Hout stated during the meeting that he is ready to respond to demands made by the Association of Travel & Tourist Agents in Lebanon for MEA to temporarily halt the selling of plane tickets in its offices for a projected period of three months.
Travel and tourism agencies had protested in front of MEA’s offices in Hamra in January, complaining of “unfair competition.”
The agents claimed that MEA, the majority of which is owned by the Lebanese state and managed by the Central Bank, had been dealing with them in U.S. Dollars while selling tickets to customers directly in Lebanese pounds.
The upcoming three months is reportedly a trial period, throughout which data will be assessed in order to confer a decision as to whether or not to uphold the new policy.
According to The Daily Star’s source at MEA, customers will still be able to purchase tickets from MEA’s official website online, via card payments made in foreign currency.
On February 16th, MEA infamously reversed a decision made the previous day to only accept payments in U.S. Dollars.
The repeal of the initial decision was made at the request of Prime Minister Hassan Diab, as well as the President of the Republic, Gen. Michel Aoun requesting to standardize MEA payments.
Lebanon’s economic crisis continues to exacerbate each and every day by a U.S. dollar shortage and a sharp devaluation of the Lebanese Pound.
As the International Monetary Fund, American legal advising firms, and the new Cabinet struggle to power through these difficult times, this blow from MEA might just be the straw that breaks the camel’s back at this point.