Building Lebanon’s destination marketing to fuel growth

Destination Lebanon

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Lebanon has long been a crucial center for creativity and innovation, and is reputed to have some of the most successful advertising agencies and marketers among its citizens. Yet the country does not have its own marketing plan. There is no unified strategy for promoting Lebanon as a country to either tourists or investors. It is of the utmost importance, then, that the government develop a cohesive country marketing strategy that could play a role in alleviating the economic situation Lebanon faces.

The post-war situation in Lebanon has been marred by instability, with political conflicts hindering any reform efforts to improve government finances. The deteriorating economic situation since 2010 has burdened the private sector and led to worsening conditions for conducting business. In order to fuel economic growth, the government must re-brand the current image of Lebanon, from a risky unstable country to a safe and stable environment. 

Globalization has led to increased competition among countries as they attempt to secure more resources and attract more foreign investment, both of which have a direct impact on social and economic development. The stability of nations in this aggressive global environment has relied mainly on their ability to create and promote competitive advantages in order to attract investment. Country marketing has become an essential tool used by governments to increase their competitiveness, promote local development, and attract foreign investment. In this context, national governments must act more like business entities, whereby territories are regarded as products that should be marketed and branded to increase their attractiveness to investors and stakeholders.

In Lebanon, a unified marketing strategy for the country has been attempted before. In 2001, then-Prime Minister Rafic Hariri tried to develop a brand for Lebanon in a holistic and coherent way. However, this effort did not materialize due to Hariri’s assassination and the political instability that followed. After the assassination, isolated efforts were made—by the tourism ministry, among others—to create a brand image. However, none of these efforts made it past the planning stage due to a lack of political will and support. Today, the brand image of Lebanon is very fragmented, and there is no conscious effort by the country to develop it. The failure of the government to create and communicate a unique brand for Lebanon has led to the country being perceived with indifference by, for example, its regional neighbors and European markets.

Isolated efforts undertaken by ministers and public influencers cannot create a national brand for Lebanon. If the government wants to play an important role in the region, it has to adopt the marketing tools that will help Lebanon project a better image. To effectively brand Lebanon, the cabinet must first develop its capital market strategy, which includes segmentation, targeting, and positioning. In Lebanon’s case, two groups need to be courted: small and large investors. Small investors—the European market, for the most part, in addition to the GCC—should be courted by the creative and production sectors in order to attract investment in gastronomy and agro-industries.  Large investors, namely the GCC market, should be courted by the financial and tourism sectors; the government should make a special effort to promote Lebanon in the GCC region.

To attract these markets, Lebanon should be positioned as a stable, safe, and alluring destination with fertile ground for investment. Another important step in its territorial marketing strategy is to develop differentiation tactics to attract investors and tourists. Any country marketing strategy should work to highlight any factors that differentiate Lebanon from its regional competition. The Lebanese people’s innovativeness, creativity, and entrepreneurial mindset can be regarded as the main differentiator in Lebanon. Other assets include: the diversity of opportunities that Lebanon offers to investors in various industries; the vibrant, multicultural nature of the country; and the rich natural resources and agriculture conditions.

Finally, the government should make national security a priority to aid the implementation of any marketing plan for Lebanon. The government should also establish an open market economy with high levels of foreign direct investment and local savings. The government strategy should stress that the state’s role in economic issues is important but limited; it should develop the legal framework for an economy in which the private sector is the main actor.

Samer Elhajjar has a PhD in marketing from the University of Strasbourg. He is an assistant professor at the University of Balamand and consults in strategic management and marketing.