The first half of 2015 has been good for the Lebanese hospitality and tourism sector and, across the industry, hopes are high for a positive summer season. “With respect to the economic and security climate, it has actually been quite good. One would imagine it to be worse than it really is, considering what’s going on in the region and what is portrayed on the local news. But in reality, the industry and Lebanese entrepreneurs and businesspeople seem to be persistent and quite good at living day by day and making sure the situation doesn’t affect them,” says Ziad Kamel, secretary of the Syndicate of Owners of Restaurants, Cafés, Night Clubs and Pastries in Lebanon, and partner in the Alleyway Group. He believes this is due to a sort of numbness to the situation, where not only Lebanese businesspeople, but the general public as well, have gotten used to accepting the current regional and political climate.
The number of visitors entering Lebanon has been on a steady double digit rise this year, with the first four months of 2015 seeing 399,049 visitors as opposed to 331,708 visitors in the same period last year. Hotel occupancy in Beirut’s four and five star hotels was also 12 percent higher for the first four months of 2015 than it was for the same period in 2014, according to Ernst and Young’s Middle East Hotel Benchmark Survey report. Owners of boutique hotels and guesthouses — which have become more and more common in the regions outside of Beirut — speak of being fully booked on weekends for weeks in advance (see article page 60), with both local Lebanese residents and foreigners choosing them for their holidays.
Beach resort operators also believe that the season, which began in May this year, is off to a good start, with hopes that it will continue this way despite the interruption in business that the holy month of Ramadan brings (see article page 64).
The Ministry of Tourism is proceeding at full speed with the implementation of the Rural Tourism Strategy, developed in collaboration with the NGO Beyond Beirut and funded by USAID. The strategy aims to develop most of Lebanon’s rural areas — such as Ehmej or Douma in North Lebanon — in the hopes of attracting those interested in leisure and adventure tourism, such as biking or mountain climbing. Kamel explains that during the summer season, the successful venues outside of Beirut tend to be along the beaches or in the mountains, where a lot of outdoor activities and tourism happen and, because of their seasonal limitations, there is a natural focus on these areas by visitors and stakeholders alike. “But with an added push from the businessmen in these areas out of Beirut, and from the Ministry of Tourism, this will help them perform better than if they just relied on their seasonality,” Kamel says.
On the other hand, cultural tourism in Lebanon, to antiquity sites such as Byblos’ citadel or Tyre’s hippodrome or the temples of Baalbeck, is still viable, with some areas receiving more visitors than others due to factors including perception of security issues and how much of a tourist destination the city that hosts these sites is (see article page 50). The most important factor for all operators that could either make or break the hospitality and tourism sector, is the security situation, which until now has been relatively stable. “I think the general trend is that as long as the situation is not manifesting itself on the streets, then business goes on, life goes on. As long as the status quo is maintained, then I think we are geared up for a pretty good summer, because Beirut and Lebanon actually look peaceful now compared to what is going on in Syria. As long as the negative situation stays out of Beirut and other urban areas, people tend to get over it very quickly,” Kamel concludes.