After a 12-year hiatus, Lebanon finally approved its state budget last month, and the Arab Summit in Jordan, also concluded last month with Lebanon not ruffling any Arab feathers. This means that tourism may return to the troubled nation, where the Middle East meets the Mediterranean.
TTN met with Lebanese Minister of Tourism Avedis Guidanian in March at ITB Berlin for a quick update on the country’s tourism plans. “First of all, I would like to change the perception of potential tourists – Lebanon is a safe country. In fact, we are probably safer than most European countries today. Sure, we have been suffering political ups and downs for the past few years, but we now have a stable government, we have a president since September last year and a newly elected cabinet. The travel bans imposed on us have been removed and we are friends with our neighbours again.
“YOU MUST RETURN TO LEBANON.”
The country is targeting mass tourists to increase the tourism influx and is eager to fill up its 22,000-room inventory. “Tourism is Lebanon is sometimes perceived as a bit expensive. To counter this perception, we have launched a special tour package for GCC countries, starting from as little as $330 to $470, including airfares, hotel stay with breakfast, and return airport transfers.”
Lebanon already has a good percentage of religious tourism and medical tourism, with plastic surgery being very developed in the country. “We are going to focus on medical tourism. We used to have rural tourism, with a focus on Phoenician routes, but at the moment we are not pushing that too much. We have a well-established stock of five-star hotels, with an average annual occupancy of 70 per cent, which is great. But we need to focus on the three- to four-star market and fill those rooms. The $330 package is aimed at this sector.”
“In 2010, we had a very good season, but starting 2011, it has been downhill for us. Certain other destinations, such as Turkey, Cairo and Dubai, to name a few, made the most of the situation and benefitted from our problems. We are now trying to recapture the marketshare that we lost to these countries and cities.”
MEGA FAM IN MAY
In mid-May, the tourism department of Lebanon will organise a mega fam trip to the country. Around 150 tour operators are expected to be invited from 25 countries. Meetings will be organised with the private sector to explore synergies and packages, and the country will be showcased in its best light, “so people see first-hand just how safe the country is”. Media will also be invited on the same trip. “This is because tour operators and media can together change the perception of any destination,” he says.
“GCC countries used to be our main feeder market, so we really would like to encourage them to come back to us. Apart from the GCC, we are targeting Egypt, European countries like Germany, France, Spain, Italy and, of course, Britain. We are also trying to target the Lebanese populations in Latin American countries to come back and visit. There are now 10 million Lebanese living in Latin America alone. We are also keen to break ground with countries who we didn’t have any tourism relations with either – we want to position ourselves as a value for money offering.”
“We are trying to rebuild our image, and take people back to the real Lebanon. The Lebanon that was a tourist hotspot, where tourists would ski in the morning and swim in the ocean after an hour. We have great cuisine, great hospitality services. So, I believe we have a strong tourism product, what I’d like to do now is put my country back on the map for international tourists.”
“We have gone from being the Paris of the Middle East to one of the last places people think of for going on holiday. We have hit rock bottom and we can only do better from here.”
“Last year, Lebanon saw 600,000 tourists, and this year I am targeting one million. I am confident that this number can be achieved,” concludes the minister.
LE GRAY TO UNVEIL EXTENSION
Le Gray, Beirut, of the capital’s premium properties, will unveil an exciting extension project to include business and events facilities, a new lobby lounge, an exhibition venue and 16 new guestrooms later this month.
With this addition and a prime central location on the very entrance of Beirut Downtown, the flagship of CampbellGray Hotels enlarges the scope of its business to attract the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions market in addition to the leisure and business markets.
The new guestrooms will complement existing accommodation in the same contemporary-classic style, incorporating light-filled interiors overlooking the bustling city.
The extended lobby area underneath the atrium and its new Lobby Lounge will provide a welcoming space where guests can unwind with family and friends or catch up on work. A new pedestrian entrance will welcome guests into the new space directly on Weygand Street.
The new facilities will impress Le Gray’s loyal clientele and attract new guests with additional spaces. The Boardroom, a dramatic 20-people meeting business venue; The Muse Room, a multi-function venue equally great for business meetings and social gatherings; The Screening Room, a brand new 52-seat mini cinema fitted out with state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment and comfortable seating; The Atrium, an exhibition and art venue at the heart of the central atrium and The Grand Salon, a 400-sq-m banquet facility with a unique, dazzling led light ceiling.
With the current additions, Le Gray, Beirut will become Downtown’s first and only hotel with such facilities.
We spoke to Georges Ojeil, general manager, Le Gray, Beirut, for more insight into the current industry scenario in the capital. “Beirut has plenty of hotels with excellent service. Seven international five-stars brand are not little for a small city like Beirut. Four-star hotels are also able to provide a fair hospitable service. Evidence of a positive trend in hospitality lies in some high-end hotel projects in the making. This will also raise the bar very high in hospitality and certainly sustain the fact that Beirut is an all-time touristic destination despite the ups and downs.
“Today, the situation is heading towards a positive trend as we have started to see that tourists from the GCC are coming back to Beirut and tour operators from Europe and North America are showing interest in the destination. There was an improvement in occupancy during the festive season in general, but the first quarter of the year is not relevant to judge occupancy related to the leisure market although the first two months of the year were good but guests were more on business trips than for leisure. This said, we are hopeful for a good leisure season this summer.
“Lebanon has enough components for a leisure trip, being able to cater for the cultural traveller with its history and heritage, its museums and art scene. Gastronomy, wine, nightlife, skiing, water activities and certainly the climate are no doubt prime attractions that complete the spectrum,” concludes the general manager.
TTN is the most established trade publication in the Middle East distributed on a controlled circulation basis to members of the travel and tourism industry.
Published monthly by Al Hilal Publishing and Marketing Group, the region’s foremost trade publisher, TTN is aimed at professionals in the industry, from travel agents to airline and hotel personnel.
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