Lebanon: 2m by 2010

Lebanon expects tourist numbers to return to 2004 levels this year, Nada Ghandour tells Raghada Mugharbil

NADA Sardouk Ghandour, director general of the Lebanese Ministry of Tourism has a lot to be proud of as the first woman to hold such a high ranking position in Lebanon – and she did it with perseverance and hard work.

Ghandour has held her position since 2002 and faces challenges due to the unpredictability of Lebanon's political situation, after the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri last year. “Tourism in Lebanon is sensitive but strong,” she says. “It’s like a woman.” She doesn’t believe that any destination is completely safe and countries can be prone to natural disasters or political ones. “As long as the people are living a normal life we are not in danger and we have nothing to hide.”
Around 1.2 million tourists visited Lebanon last year despite the political turmoil, a ten percent decrease since 2004. Ghandour expects numbers to return to 2004 levels, and so far this year is on track for a 20 per cent increase. The target, she says, is two million tourists by 2010.
Ghandour spends a lot of time working on promotions for Lebanon, trying to make visas more accessible for tourists and most importantly on making sure the young Lebanese don’t migrate to other nations. “We want our kids to stay.” Since she’s been in office Lebanon has created an open visa policy with over 36 Arab and European countries.
Currently she’s working on an arrival film for in coming passengers to watch before landing. "In this short film, Lebanon's Manara coast will be shown because a diversity of people from all walks of life go there, and you can see all of Lebanon's beauty spots… the mountains range and sea coast." 
Ghandour is also managing a project that aims at promoting Lebanon’s remote villages. Along with the European Union and USAID she’s handling a three-year project to expand economic opportunities for tourist sites off beaten track that would appeal to the unconventional traveller.
She is also creating a database of all areas in Lebanon including remote villages so that tourists can go on line to learn about these areas and discover a whole new perspective of what Lebanon has to offer. “We have a list of bed and breakfasts of all areas outside of Beirut and tourists can go on line to visit them.” Her aim is to expand tourism’s potential and to help local Lebanese make money through opening up their homes to tourists. "We're renovating old homes and we're working on training families to be in service in all areas."
As for the dirty Lebanese coastline that is being neglected, Ghadour believes it be the government's job to maintain its cleanliness, however, she is working on having school children clean it as part of a volunteering exercise and being connected to one's country. "Everyone is responsible for cleaning the coast and not littering," she says firmly. Ski resorts such as Bschare and the Cedars need refurbishing and work on their infrastructure, and her ministry has a plan if investors can be found.
Ghandour began her career as a teacher in the public sector, then moved on to teach French literature at university level while working on her PhD. She believes she has a dream job that makes her life meaningful, since she is giving back to her country. “While teaching I felt I wasn’t being innovative, however, in this sector I can be.”
One of those innovations involves her other passion, children, for whom she has created created colourful books that introduce children to the beauties of Lebanon. “I want children to know and love their country, like I do, so I wrote several books and got a talented illustrator to work on the pictures.” The book will be distributed to schools around Lebanon this year.