Economy

Political stability lifts Lebanon tourism sector

By Tamer Abu Zeid in Beirut

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The Jeita Grotto is a system of interconnected caves that stretch for nearly nine kilometres in the Nahr al-Kalb valley north of Beirut. The caves were inhabited in prehistoric times. [Photo courtesy of Lebanon's Ministry of Tourism]

Lebanon's tourism sector is in better shape now than it was five years ago, according to Lebanese Tourism Minister Avedis Guidanian.

The number of tourist arrivals in Lebanon has risen higher than in previous years, which were marked by stagnation due to travel bans that kept Gulf tourists away, he told Al-Mashareq.

"Lebanon is capable of competing with neighbouring countries in the tourism sector despite all the complications," Guidanian said.

The election of a new president and the formation of an inclusive government have contributed to dispelling the prevailing sense of uncertainty that was a source of concern for many potential tourists, he added.

"Political and security stability make for better tourism, and we are a tourism country par excellence," he said.

Prices are competitive, especially in Jounieh, Sidon and Tyre, where hotel fares are as low as $50 per night.

"During Edi al-Fitr, hotel bookings were at 90% in Beirut and 60% outside Beirut, while restaurants saw remarkable activity during and after Eid," he said.

Promoting Lebanon abroad

A few months ago, the Tourism Ministry announced a promotional package to encourage tourists to visit Lebanon, highlighting its attractions and dispelling the notion that tourism in Lebanon is expensive, Guidanian said.

The four-day package, which included a hotel stay with breakfast and shuttle service to the airport, was promoted in Egypt, Kuwait, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Iraq, Qatar and Armenia.

The campaign was promoted on social media sites in these countries, in co-operation with the Middle East Airlines, the Syndicate of Hotel Owners in Lebanon and the Association of Travel and Tourist Agents in Lebanon.

"When representatives of 150 international companies came to Lebanon in May for the Visit Lebanon forum, they were not convinced the Lebanon they saw was the same country they had heard about and seen on TV," Guidanian said.

In another move to promote tourism, Guidanian launched the marine tourism season in conjunction with the country's cultural and arts festival season.

Lebanon also boasts exceptional environmental and rural tourism, he said, noting that it features 15 nature reserves scattered across the country.

Religious and cultural tourism

In mid-May, Prime Minister Saad Hariri launched the first phase of the Religious Cultural Tourism Project, spearheaded by a religious cultural tourism unit formed by the government in 2010.

The initiative is part of an attempt by Lebanon -- which is rich in its archaeological, cultural and religious landmarks -- to claim its rightful place on the world map of religious tourism.

This unit "was borne from Prime Minster Saad Hariri’s faith in Lebanon, which is known as the land of confluence of religions", project co-ordinator Roula Ajouz Sidani told Al-Mashareq.

Lebanon must figure out how to get its share of this type of tourism, she added, as it contributes to economic growth and the creation of job opportunities.

When the project was launched, "we said that it will draw the world’s attention because Lebanon, at a time when the world is thinking about and working towards initiating interfaith dialogue, went beyond interfaith dialogue and is a place where religions co-exist and converge", she said.

With the launch of all these types of tourism initiatives, she said, the hope is to successfully promote Lebanon and attract new types of tourists.

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