An al­ter­na­tive form of tourism of­fers great po­ten­tial

Executive Magazine - - Contents -

the list of 83 his­tor­i­cal re­li­gious sites se­lected for an im­pos­ing new cof­fee ta­ble book, pub­lished as part of the gov­ern­ment’s “cul­tural re­li­gious tourism” project, is as var­ied as Le­banon’s re­li­gious land­scape. “The book’s ti­tle, ‘ Le­banon:Cel­e­brat­ing OurDiver­sity,’ is a mes­sage in it­self,” says Roula Ajouz, project co­or­di­na­tor of the Cul­tural Re­li­gious Tourism (CRT) unit cre­ated by the Prime Min­is­ter, which in­cludes rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the Min­istry of Tourism (MoT) and other min­istries. “Enough with the ex­pres­sion ‘in­ter-re­li­gious di­a­logue.’ It sounds like we’re liv­ing to­gether be­cause we have to,” adds Ajouz, who is also the gen­eral man­ager of Cedar Wings, Mid­dle East Air­lines’ in­flight mag­a­zine.

The book was pub­lished in English and Ara­bic, and dis­trib­uted dur­ing the of­fi­cial launch of the re­li­gious tourism pro­gram at the Grand Serail on May 16. Six re­gional maps of Le­banon, which pin­point 250 re­li­gious sites of in­ter­est, were printed for dis­tri­bu­tion across the coun­try. A web­site was launched (www.sa­credle­banon.com), and a sixminute doc­u­men­tary pro­duced. All of this work was funded by the Ital­ian Agency for Devel­op­ment Co­op­er­a­tion us­ing $328,000 of a $462,000 grant. “It’s an ini­tia­tive that can also gen­er­ate im­por­tant rev­enue for lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties and for the state. By de­vel­op­ing this par­tic­u­lar sec­tor, Le­banon will im­prove its in­fra­struc­ture network and cre­ate new job op­por­tu­ni­ties for hos­tels, mu­se­ums, crafts­man­ship, ar­ti­sans, small shops, and other tourist re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties,” Mas­simo Marotti, the Ital­ian am­bas­sador, wrote in an email to Ex­ec­u­tive.

There has been no study yet on how many jobs the CRT project will cre­ate, but its sec­ond phase is al­ready sched­uled. “In phase two, which will be com­pleted by the end of Oc­to­ber, the ex­perts will fo­cus on two pi­lot sites: Qana, in south Le­banon, and a mosque in Tripoli. For this phase, Italy will con­trib­ute $69,186,” Am­bas­sador Marotti said. Ac­cord­ing to him, “It’s un­der­stood that an ap­prox­i­mate bud­get of $1.3 mil­lion will be needed over a pe­riod of two years to pro­mote [an] ad­di­tional 500 re­li­gious sites. Ad­di­tional in­vest­ments should come from pri­vate and pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions.”

The to­tal amount of such in­vest­ments re­mains un­clear. Ex­ec­u­tive was able to con­sult par­tial es­ti­mates pro­vided by Qabas, a Shi­ite as­so­ci­a­tion that pro­motes re­li­gious tourism. Qabas com­piled a list of 24 sites that needed re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion or ad­di­tional in­fra­struc­ture, with the to­tal bill amount­ing to $7.2 mil­lion. The only other study that Ex­ec­u­tive was

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