Lebanon seeking to become a year-round destination

Downtown Beirut is one of the most<br>popular spots

FOLLOWING a year of prestige hotel openings and significant growth in arrival numbers, Lebanon is now positioning itself to attract more non-Arab visitors and aiming to promote areas outside Beirut.

Minister of Tourism Fady Abboud told TTN: “At the moment 40 per cent of our tourists come from the Arab world and 70 per cent stay around Beirut.

“I want to see more Europeans and western visitors and also want to see people going beyond Beirut.“

He added that in 2011 the ministry will be targeting the UK, Germany and Russia and also the North African countries such as Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Algeria.

The country also wants to attract a broader range of visitors throughout the year.

Abboud said: “We are not suitable or looking for mass tourism. At this moment we tend to attract more high earners, which is great, but it’s not enough.

“We are very, very busy during Christmas and the New Year and for a few months in the summer but we want to attract visitors during January, February and March.“

During the 1970s Lebanon was welcoming around 1.5 million visitors when countries around it, such as Cyprus, were only receiving around 60,000 and Abboud believes one way of bringing the numbers back up, particularly out of season, is by reintroducing the package deal.

He said: “We’re trying to reintroduce the package deal, at the moment this sort of tourism makes up only about three per cent of our arrivals so we are looking to the agents for this.“

And Lebanon is also targeting Mice visitors with a new exhibition centre due to be built at Dbayeh.

Abboud said: “It will be a seaside exhibition centre and we are working with the private sector to form a proper private/public partnership and hoping to break ground in 2011 with the project expected to complete in 2014.

“In the meantime there is the existing conference centre.

“At the moment Lebanon has very few trade shows, though the country is well-known as a conference destination throughout the Arab world, so we are working to attract more trade shows and one of the nice things we have to offer is that, if you come to Lebanon, you will not see non-Lebanese working the stands as we are very involved.“

Tourist numbers in 2010 so far are 17.5 per cent up on last year when the country welcomed more than 1.8 million visitors. Tourism was 22 per cent of the GDP in 2009 – five years ago this figure was around 12 per cent.

So promoting tourism is a big issue for the Lebanese government. Currently around 80 to 90 per cent of arrivals do not need a visa and Abboud said the ministry is working to improve facilities at the borders particularly with Syria where passenger terminals are to be built, again in private/public partnership.

And on future development he said: “In the pipeline we have projects worth around $4 billion and approximately a third of this is from outside the country, mainly from within the Middle East showing Lebanon’s value as an investment prospect also.”