The power of tourism
Lebanon’s imported luxury brand agents discuss the impact of visitors on their business
prior to 2012, it was a common sight to see wealthy tourists — mainly from the Gulf — and even some Lebanese shopping in Beirut’s luxury brand stores that dot the expansive streets of Downtown Beirut and the high-end sections of Lebanon’s malls.
During the past ve years however footfall in many of these international luxury brand stores has been languishing due to the political instability and regional insecurity that have a ected Lebanon. he decrease in tourists from the Gulf, as well as the dwindling purchasing power among local Lebanese, has had a large negative impact on these agents.
With Lebanon enjoying more stability now — following the election of President Aoun in late 2016 — it is hoped that the luxury retail market will also pick up. Executive Life spoke to importers of luxury brands to get their perspective on the market in summer 2017 and their expectations for the upcoming few years.
Although no exact gures were provided, the importers of luxury brands that Executive Life spoke to say that tourism has always been a key driver for luxury retail in Lebanon. his is especially true during the summer or winter holidays seasons, according to Ziad Annan, owner of A&S Chronora, the exclusive retailer of olex and udor watches in Lebanon.
Khalil Noujaim, the chairman of Level 5 Holding, which is the exclusive agent of French luxury brand Eden Park in Lebanon, also believes tourism impacts retail. here has always been a positive correlation between tourism and businesses in general, and this year is no di erent. However, the si e of the impact di ers from one industry to another. For instance, normally tourism a ects the hospitality sector most, with retail coming in second place,” he explains.
Simone amer, chief commercial o icer of amer Freres sal, believes that tourists favor shopping in the luxury brand stores owned by the group because of the customer service provided. ourists compare our rst class service with all the agship stores they visit around the world. We follow the guidelines and o er a modern Eastern touch to our selling approach, as our culture is known for high standards of service and hospitality,” she explains, but adds that a missed opportunity associated with Beirut as a luxury shopping destination is that Chinese and other Asian tourists are still not interested in visiting Lebanon.
With tourism having such a strong impact on the luxury market, it was no wonder the luxury retail industry in Lebanon generally su ered over the past six years when the number of visitors to the country was low.
oday, tourism is on the rise again in Lebanon, with Beirut’s ve star hotels reporting up to 0 percent occupancy, the best it has been in the past six years, although not up to the level of 2010. However, it seems that this has not yet translated into more tourists from the Gulf coming to shop in Lebanon as they used to in the past.
he luxury brands Executive Life spoke to say Lebanese, whether expats or residing in Lebanon, continue to be their main clientele. “Our performance is mainly driven by local Lebanese residents who highly appreciate our designs and their French quality, especially since the brand has been in the market for almost 16 years now. Lebanese expats and Arab tourists started appreciating our brand more a few years back following the international expansion of Eden Park, mainly across the GCC markets,” explains Noujaim.
Annan also says the majority of their clients are Lebanese. “ he majority of olex enthusiasts in Lebanon are Lebanese living inside and outside the country. Complementing our local faithful clientele, the brand in Lebanon attracts an interest from many enthusiasts living in the region,” he says.
amer says expats make it a point to shop in the luxury brands store in Lebanon when available, as opposed to the same brand internationally, as they believe they are helping the economy that way. “Expat visits are increasing, thanks to the airline packages and services provided to them. Our loyal expat clients refuse to buy from abroad, mentioning to us that they want to purchase from the Beirut stores as they believe that they are helping the economy of their country,” she says.
Meanwhile Maher Atamian, managing director at Est. Hagop Atamian (a distributor of luxury and medium-end watches in Lebanon) says their imported luxury watch brands continue to rely on local Lebanese and expats, and have not yet felt an impact from the increase in Gulf tourists to Lebanon. “We are still relying on the Lebanese expats who visit Lebanon during the summer and holiday periods,” he says.
Downtown Beirut has all the makings of a luxury retail area and indeed it was almost over owing with visitors prior to 2012. “Downtown Beirut is the destination in Lebanon that o ers the biggest choice of monobrand luxury boutiques, a wide array of high-end restaurants, and a marina to complete the shopping experience. he presence of ve star hotels also helps in the positioning of the city as the luxury retail destination in Lebanon and creates organic tra ic to luxury shops based in Downtown,” explains Annan.
n agreement, amer says, “ ourists are interested in visiting this area as a luxury shopping destination in Lebanon. All services are easily provided to them, and the access to the city is convenient, valet parking service is available at every corner, streets are equipped with parkmeters for those who rent cars, cab services are all over the city, and most of the shops provide them with tax free refund slips upon purchase or free delivery to hotels for heavy or expensive items. Other areas, such as Dbayeh with ABC and Le Mall, also experience tourist footfall, but the only issue is that big brand names are not available in these destinations for high-end luxury clients, so as a brand mix today, Downtown remains the only destination in Lebanon providing the best service for high-end luxury brands.”
But most say the activity in the Downtown area has decreased with the drop in number of tourists, and this has a ected the luxury retail sector in the area. “Downtown is the only true luxury destination in Beirut. All major cities have their luxury in their ‘downtown’ areas, and Lebanon is no exception. It’s very important to have it, since tourists target the center of the city when they visit. However, again, Downtown today is su ering because of lack of tourists,” explains Atamian.
Noujaim also speaks of the decreased activity in Downtown Beirut, saying that this is because the area attracts mainly tourists when it comes to shopping, while the Lebanese seek out luxury brands in malls. “ oday tourist numbers are not enough alone to sustain a business in Downtown Beirut. his area should be revived to attract more locals and become the main destination for shopping in Lebanon,” says Noujaim.
2017 is not over yet. Summer is still on full blast mode, and the potential pro ts from the end of year holiday period are still unknown, so a lot might change for luxury retail in Lebanon before the year ends.
In the meantime, luxury brand importers, such as Atamian are asking for continued political stability so things can get back on track and luxury brands can enjoy growth in Lebanon.
Noujaim asks for a reconsideration of rental fees, which would help retailers overcome this tough period. “ he main support should be in adjusting the rents in line with the overall economic situation the country and the region is going through. his will bene t both the real estate sector, as well as the retail industry, and will provide a boost until the situation normali es,” says Noujaim.
hampagne, or sparkling wine, was initially an accident — a nuisance even. In post-Medieval France, bubbles in wine were the unwanted byproduct of alcoholic fermentation under certain conditions, and they were dangerous. Some called it “devil’s wine” because its pressure o en caused bottles to explode, sometimes starting chain reactions that destroyed much of the cellar’s stock. Though he’s falsely credited for “inventing” champagne, Benedictine monk Dom Perignon helped develop the region’s wine industry, initially researching wine bubbles in an e ort to get rid of them. Evidently, over time people began to intentionally produce sparkling wine, with the Champagne region’s widely considered the most prestigious. The oldest still active champagne house, founded in 1729, is Ruinart.
Today, champagne is almost always associated with good times — it’s a staple on New Year’s Eve, boosts the mood at brunch, and you probably had it at a wedding this summer. It’s the stu of rap lyrics, Great Gatsby parties, and infamous Ibiza beach clubs. But champagne can’t be reduced to a pricey sparkling wine from a speci c region in France or a status symbol — it’s an art, as well as an industry, and a luxury on many levels.
HOW IT’S MADE
In order to claim the title “champagne” there are production rules and legal requirements. The most obvious is geographic — the product must be made in France’s northern Champagne district. A designated trade group ercely protects the name against imposters, even brands who try using the word for unrelated products. In 1987, Perrier was stopped from marketing its water as the “champagne of mineral waters.” Yves Saint Laurent lost a high-pro le lawsuit when trying to name a scent a er the drink in 199 , and, more recently, Apple was reportedly warned against naming their 2007 iPhone color “champagne” (they went with “gold”). But it’s not just the name — Champagne’s cool climate and unique soil give its wine characteristic avors.
The grape varieties used are primarily combinations of the white grape and the black grapes and Some fruit is grown by the house, while other times it’s sourced from local growers. Champagne producers use the
where champagne goes through two distillations, the rst usually yielding a rather avorless, acidic, low-alcohol liquid called This can be blended with older wines kept in reserves, and is always combined with yeast and sugar. Champagne in the 19th century was signi cantly sweeter than that of today because more sugar was added, but the current trend is tart. Bottles marked as
zero, and extra contain almost no sugar.
This blend is almost always bottled but not sealed completely — using glass that is thicker and