It’s an obvious business proposition: buy beach front property, wait for the sun to come out, and charge $20 a day for entry. And from mid-July through September, as long as there is heat to beat, Lebanon’s beach clubs are packed with tanned, oily bodies frying themselves to golden perfection.
As competition for customers intensifies, beach club owners are offering new, innovative incentives and programs to lure clients to their particular strip of sand. Furthermore, some are adding facilities to make their clubs year-round destinations, maximizing profit on some of Lebanon’s most expensive beach front property.
Club Senses in Kaslik sits near the coastal highway, 20 minutes from Beirut, drawing customers from the capital and nearby towns who want a quick escape from the urban heat. It’s a massive black building, with several floors of gym equipment, 40 exercise classes per week, an indoor pool with panoramic view and a large spa. While there is no beach access, it has two swimming pools, one of them for children. Last year, the pools were only for members of the gym, who pay a monthly ($165), quarterly ($462), half-yearly ($890) or yearly ($1,788) membership fee to use the equipment and take classes.
This year, the club’s management opened up the pool area for non-members. Although open for only a year, according to Shyrine Yaghi, Communication Manager at Club Senses, the laid-back, somewhat New Age feel proved extremely popular, especially with local Lebanese.
“Tourists are more likely to go to touristic cities,” she said. “But at Club Senses, it’s more like a resort. We’re not promoting it as the city of Kaslik. Last year we had a good experience with the beach club, so this year we’ve developed more space and a certain strategy to contain the 600 to 700 people who come on the weekends.”
In Byblos, Eddé Sands, one of Lebanon’s favorite beach resorts, is upping the ante, faced with increasing competition from places like Club Senses. In addition to their tropical outdoor spa, Eddé Sands opened an Ayurvedic spa this past year, the first of its kind in the country. Two Indian doctors trained in Ayurveda, an Indian science of healing, offer treatments, massages and consultations for specific ailments.
Eddé Sands is also looking to capitalize on the exclusivity angle, offering for the first time a silver “Presidential” tier membership, which for $1,430 comes with a host of benefits, such as free massages, free meals for two at all of the resort’s dining outlets, and a 15 percent discount at the spas. The regular purple ($411) and gold ($847) memberships are also now offered for families, rather than just individuals. And instead of one entrance for everyone, Eddé Sands also split the experience in two, with a VIP entrance that goes directly to the cabanas, bungalows and circular VIP pool, and a separate entrance for families and day-pass beach goers.
Like Club Senses, Eddé Sands is looking to make the resort a year-round destination. The memberships, which used to be valid until the end of September, are now valid through the end of the year. A massive new ballroom, over 700 square meters and seating up to 640 people, will host weddings and parties all year long. The resort’s traditional Lebanese restaurant, Layal al-Zaman, was the scene of New Year’s and Valentine’s Day parties last year, and can be kept open for winter dining.
Then there’s the beach club that’s opening this winter. Hotel Byblos-sur-Mer, owned by Alexy Karim, is set to re-open around Christmas this year, so he can catch some holiday tourists or Lebanese on a trip back home who are looking to spend a few days by the sea and explore Byblos’ old town. Located at the edge of the port and built in 1964, it ironically had its heyday during the civil war years, when many Beirut residents left for the relative peace of Byblos. But then the capital came back to life, with its new downtown and fancy hotels, and Byblos was, as Karim puts it, “forgotten.” He is looking to bring the hotel back to its former glory minus, of course, the circumstances that made it so popular.
Karim is also the owner of Dar l’Azrak, a seafood restaurant perched on a cliff in the town of Amchit, south of Batroun. With seven years in the seasonal food and beverage industry, he is keen to move onto a project with a slightly longer window of opportunity.
“We work all year just to make these three months,” he says, referring to the high summer season. Karim shudders to think of the summer of 2006, and calls 2008, when Lebanon’s government was pieced together just a month before the season began, “sort of a miracle.”
The four-story hotel will have 22 suites, eight rooms and a massive rooftop presidential suite with a 400 square meter terrace. Room rates will begin at around $200 for a 30 square meter deluxe room, and will climb into the thousands for the 160 square meter presidential suite. With high-speed Internet and two conference rooms, as well as a small spa on the third floor, Karim hopes to make it a corporate destination during the low season.
“There are two hard months, February and March. We have a low season like everyone else, when we will focus on corporate things, seminars,” he says. “But after February and March, you have Easter, and then springtime comes,” at which point he expects business to take off.
For summer 2010, he’s planning a beach club and pool just across the road from the hotel. Comprising 2,000 square meters, the U-shaped outdoor area sits just adjacent to the port. A finger of land that juts into the Mediterranean will house a seafood restaurant, also called Dar l’Azrak, and the rest of the little strip of coast will have a lounge pool, deck and snack bar.
“I’d rather give my guests nice clean water to swim in the sea than focus on a big pool,” says Karim, referring to a plan to pipe the hotel’s wastewater back into the municipal system for treatment, rather than letting it run into the sea. At the other side of the U is a raised wooden deck; this area will turn into a bar and lounge once the sun sets.
“It’s not wild like Eddé Sands, more of a chill out place, with jazz, blues, Cuban music. You can moor your boat and come spend the day, and then continue your evening after dinner at the lounge,” he explained. Guests will also be able to catch music from the Byblos Festival, whose stage is on the other side of the port.
“We’re targeting not teenagers but executives. Young executives,” said Karim, who is in his late 40s, “like me.”
The phased opening will help him iron out any kinks in what is his largest project to date, while not missing any of the seasons.
“I could have opened the beach this year,” he said, “but the hotel would not be done. I like to fix one thing at a time.”
“When you open it, that’s the hardest thing,” Karim continued. “It takes you two or three years to adapt, upgrading everything yourself. This way, we can fix any problems during the low season stages.”