SUSTAINING LEBANON’S RURAL TOURISM
There is a growing local clientele in Lebanon hungry for a more “authentic” experience of the
country. Through word of mouth and social media, rural activities, such as fruit picking and hiking, are slowly moving from small groups of connoisseurs to being embraced by a broader public. Guesthouses across the country, once informal, are becoming a stay-cation preference for Lebanese. In the words of Kamal Mouzawak, founder of Souk El Tayeb — which operates several guesthouses, restaurants, food festivals, and markets throughout the country — more and more Lebanese are seeking “the same experience as going to their grandmother’s house.”
Leaving the capital to visit one’s family home in the mountains may be an age-old tradition in Lebanon, but the institutionalization of rural tourism, with guesthouses, tour guides, and proper signage, is a relatively recent phenomenon.
FOSTERING RURAL TOURISM
In the past, guesthouse owners had been accommodating tourists on an ad hoc basis. Around 2010 they came to the realization that they could turn this activity into a profitable business, according to Martine Btaich, president of the Lebanese Mountain Trail Association (LMTA).
Help and training came from USAID, through Diyafa, a network of rural guesthouses that last year launched an upgraded online booking site, and through the Lebanon - Industry Value Chain Development (LIVCD) project, which began in 2012. Initially billed as five year, $41.7 million project —
“aimed at improving Lebanon’s economic stability and providing income-generating opportunities for small businesses while creating jobs for the rural population, in particular women and youth” LIVCD was recently given a two-year extension till 2019. The hope being that by then, the activities that received funding and support will have become self-sustaining.
From humble beginnings, the number of guesthouses in Lebanon has risen to around 80, per LIVCD figures, though as of yet, no centralized data on guesthouses exists. Petra Obeid, who is in charge of rural tourism at the Ministry of Tourism (MoT), told Executive that figures are currently being collated.
Obeid says that the MoT supports rural tourism through a national strategy developed in tandem with LIVCD and launched in 2015. Among its aims were to promote awareness of rural tourism destinations, institutionalize rural tourism at the community level of local communities, improve and enforce environmental, cultural, historical, and agricultural protections, diversify and modernize rural destinations, improve data collection, develop a culture of rural tourism among the younger generation and improve networking with the diaspora.
According to Btaich, so far the strategy has vali- dated the efforts of tourism stakeholders. “Many new initiatives at the level of municipalities have been done, creating a snowball effect,” she says. “The challenge now is for the strategy not to sit in a drawer.”
GUESTHOUSES: A REASONABLY PROFITABLE VENTURE
The cost of rooms is varied. If booked through L’Hôte Libanais, a website with a network of 16 guesthouses, prices can range from $80 to $250, with the average room going for $100 - $120. Guesthouses that are part of the Diyafa network, tend to be cheaper. According to LIVCD figures, they cost $60 per person on average, and start as low as $40. Orphée Haddad, L’Hôte Libanais’ founder works at the higher end of market, only listing guesthouses that interact with the local community, serve local food, are environmentally friendly, and that, in his eyes, have “character.”
The popularity of guesthouses shows no sign of waning, both for those looking for a place to relax outside the city and for entrepreneurial types eyeing the opportunity to reinvent family property. Philippe Germanos, who co-runs Guita Bed and Bloom, left corporate life a few years ago to return to his family home and develop the declining farming business that he inherited from his great grandfather.
The five rooms of the guesthouse, which cost
If booked through L’Hôte Libanais, a website which has a network of 16 guesthouses, prices can range from $80 to $250, with the average room going for $100 - $120
An increasingly popular trend that still lacks a proper legal framework