Tourism booming in Lebanon

Chris Moloney

With over a million tourists visiting Lebanon in 2003, the country’s vision to build a powerful economy based on exports, services and luxury travel is moving closer to reality, says a major hotel group.

According to the InterContinental Hotels Group, the country's progress towards a bright economic future is being accelerated by booming tourist traffic from the Gulf countries and a sustained recovery from civil war which is now attracting investment.
The company, which operates five properties in Lebanon out of 71 InterContinental, Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn hotels and resorts in the Middle East and North Africa region, says Lebanon's revival is characterised by the reconstruction of Beirut, the redevelopment of its international airport and more airlines bringing more visitors.
“Lebanon is rapidly becoming an important international destination, and business is increasing in general, most specifically in the luxury niche,” said Chris Moloney, chief operating officer, InterContinental Hotels Group, Middle East and Africa.
'Over the last two years the country has been re-discovered by wealthy tourists from the Gulf countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE. What they found was above their expectations – great weather, mountain and sea resorts, great food, European architecture, exciting night life, casinos, international hotels and their own language being spoken. All these elements have contributed to the destination’s success.'
Moloney said families in the region are now returning to Lebanon repeatedly throughout the year.
Arrivals in Lebanon grew from 741,648 in 2000 to 1,015,793 last year, the first time the one million mark had been broken since 1974.
The time is right for Lebanon to reposition itself as an economic  leader in the region, added Moloney. “The popular vision of Beirut is of a city combining Arab and Mediterranean culture, and creating a highly-successful economic model based on exports, tourism and services like banking, insurance, re-export, trade, health, and media.”
Many new projects are adding retail outlets, offices, entertainment and leisure facilities and luxury apartments.
The new wing of Beirut International Airport is now in service with a brand new duty free complex. New airlines like Etihad Airways and Air Arabia are flying to Lebanon, while Lebanon’s MEA is operating a brand new fleet.