The tourism sec­tor needs a sus­tain­able path

Executive Magazine - - Contents -

For the first time since the on­set of the war in Syria, there is fi­nally pos­i­tive news com­ing from Le­banon’s hos­pi­tal­ity sec­tor.

The elec­tion of a pres­i­dent and the for­ma­tion of a gov­ern­ment in late 2016, and the lack of ma­jor se­cu­rity in­ci­dents in Greater Beirut since the sec­ond half of 2015, have given Le­banon the sta­bil­ity it needs to be seen as a safe des­ti­na­tion once again.

This has had an al­most im­me­di­ate im­pact on the hos­pi­tal­ity sec­tor. In­stead of lament­ing dwin­dling tourist num­bers and empty ho­tel rooms, the five star hote­liers in­ter­viewed by Ex­ec­u­tive were only too happy to talk about in­creased rev­enues and high oc­cu­pancy rates (see ar­ti­cle page 30). This trend is ex­pected to con­tinue through sum­mer 2017, de­spite the re­cent cri­sis in re­la­tions be­tween Qatar and the other GCC coun­tries.

The tourism sec­tor sorely needs a good sea­son. If ex­pec­ta­tions hold up and sum­mer 2017 is a suc­cess, the in­dus­try will breathe a col­lec­tive sigh of re­lief.

How­ever, the ex­pe­ri­ence of the last five years should not be for­got­ten in the ex­cite­ment over one good sea­son. We have seen al­ready what an over-re­liance on one seg­ment of the tourism mar­ket can do.

Le­banon pre­vi­ously built its tourism strat­egy on the con­ven­tional lux­ury model, ca­ter­ing mainly to Gulf na­tion­als with a pref­er­ence for high-end din­ing and club­bing, ex­ec­u­tive suites and shop­ping sprees. When that mar­ket be­gan to dry up in 2012, it dragged the Le­banese tourism in­dus­try with it.

It took al­most three years for the Le­banese hos­pi­tal­ity sec­tor to get over the shock of los­ing this lux­ury tourism mar­ket. Slowly but surely, the in­dus­try pulled it­self to its feet, dusted it­self off, and started as­sess­ing ways to re­vive the sec­tor.

As a tourist des­ti­na­tion, Le­banon has much to of­fer beyond win­ing and din­ing in the cap­i­tal. With the ab­sence of Gulf na­tion­als, the main con­sumers of this lux­ury tourism, al­ter­na­tive op­tions were scru­ti­nized and de­vel­oped at a na­tional level.

Aided by so­cial me­dia ac­counts such as Live Love Le­banon, and pro­pelled largely by the lo­cal mar­ket, ru­ral tourism flour­ished, and stay­ca­tions in guest­houses be­came more pop­u­lar (see ar­ti­cle page 50). In 2015, the Min­istry of Tourism adopted a na­tional ru­ral tourism strat­egy in part­ner­ship with USAID.

Re­li­gious and cul­tural tourism have also been fur­ther de­vel­oped, be­gin­ning with the place­ment of our Lady of Mantra on the In­ter­na­tional Re­li­gious Tourism Map. In May 2017, a $328,000 grant from the Ital­ian Co­op­er­a­tion Of­fice helped to fur­ther pro­mote re­li­gious tourism through the cre­ation of a cof­fee ta­ble book that maps out of all the re­li­gious tourism sites in Le­banon (see ar­ti­cle page 40).

These are solid ini­tia­tives with the po­ten­tial to di­ver­sify Le­banese tourism and at­tract new mar­kets. It would be a shame to let them lan­guish in the sum­mer heat sim­ply be­cause we have not learnt our les­son from the past five years.

We should keep these ini­tia­tives in mind and con­tinue to work on strate­gies to de­velop them, while wel­com­ing what the up­com­ing sea­son will bring in terms of con­ven­tional tourism. Only by work­ing con­tin­u­ously to di­ver­sify Le­banon’s tourism port­fo­lio can we hope to achieve a sus­tain­able and eco­nom­i­cally prof­itable hos­pi­tal­ity sec­tor — one which can with­stand what­ever is thrown its way.

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