All that can be seen in the drive down the narrow road in Damour, south of the airport, that leads to the country’s newest beach club, Lost at Sea, is the glittering Mediterranean. This serene seaview provides a soothing backdrop to the white sunbeds, the turquoise pool, the natural wood bar, and the restaurant seating area that makes up the 450-person capacity beach club.
Within that environment, it is easy to forget the stresses of daily life in Lebanon nowadays—be it the longer than usual daily power cuts, the non-functioning traffic lights, or the increasing number of businesses that are shutting down—and to make believe, even for an afternoon, that all is well in the country.
Michel Abchee, CEO of Damour Beach Resort sal, which owns and operates Lost at Sea and Damour Beach Club, is quick to bring things back to reality. He points out that all the infrastructure for Lost at Sea, including their 100-meter square pool, was developed last year and that around 40 percent of the $500,000 total investment into the beach club was made at that time—giving the impression that the company had sunk too much by way of investment and physical infrastructure to just walk away.
The decision to continue with the project this year, despite the dismal economic situation and dwindling purchasing power, which Abchee is very aware of, was more of an experiment. “This contradiction that you see here is just based on the fact that we started last year and we decided to continue, as [owners], and do a test for the market for this year,” he says. “But it does not mean that it will make money. It just means that we are testing the system and see where the future is heading.”
Lost at Sea caters to a niche target market that can still afford small luxuries, Abchee says, which he believes will always exist in Lebanon. “What you see here is more of a luxury resort than a family or casual one,” he says. “We focus on high-quality service and on using natural material and integrating the project with its surroundings.” Accordingly, he set the entrance fee with his wealthy target clientele in mind. The beach club operates Thursdays through Sundays with weekday prices set at LL45,000 and weekend prices at LL60,000, which is 20 percent more than the average entrance fees of beach clubs this season. Abchee says entry fees will remain stable through the summer whereas F&B prices may vary based on the market pricing of ingredients and supplies (for more on beach clubs’ pricing and costs, see upcoming article).
Damour Beach Resort was launched in 2012, and it was Abchee’s experience with that family-oriented project that made Damour Beach Resort sal decide to develop a luxury beach club. “Last year, because we had seen the purchasing power of families decreasing year-on-year since 2015 (at Damour Beach club), we felt that it is necessary somehow to shift a bit to another type of a beach club, while still keeping Damour Beach open, Abchee explains. “We wanted to open a beach club that would cater more to a young [family-free] crowd.” From his travels abroad, Abchee says he realized that Lebanon is lacking beach venues where one can enjoy a high-quality meal or drink with some nice music while spending the day by the pool or beach. This led him to develop Lost at Sea, the concept of which is based on the group’s boutique hotel in Gemmayze, Lost.
The two beach projects, Lost at Sea and Damour Beach Club, were originally meant to be part of a bigger resort that Damour Beach Resort sal envisoned launching in full in 2015. As Abchee recounts, their plan was to develop a beach resort (complete with all the facilities and amenities expected of such a project, e.g. multiple pools, eateries, and entertainment options) that would surpass what exists south of the airport in its scale. “There are a lot of restaurants and cafés [in Lebanon], but we believe there are not too many resorts,” he says. “So there is a lot of potential to build new projects, new destinations … to do it differently than what is being done today. But unfortunately the situation of the country has not been encouraging of such investments.” In lieu of opening such a big project all at once, given the circumstances, Damour Beach Resort sal opted to launch the beach clubs first. “For now, the focus remains on boutique type projects where the needed funding remains accessible to investors,” Abchee says.
Abchee describes his outlook toward Lebanon at the moment as “very negative” and says most businesses in Lebanon, including beach clubs, are in “survival mode.” (See upcoming article on the challenges of beach clubs in Lebanon this summer). Speaking prior to the airport’s opening, Abchee said he expected it would bring “an injection of oxygen” to the country, but believed it would be a short-term relief at best.