Des­ti­na­tion: Shouf

From an­cient forests to grand palaces

Executive Magazine - - Contents -

From an­cient forests to grand palaces

The ver­dant Shouf, fa­mous for its un­spoiled green vis­tas, is rapidly evolv­ing into a pop­u­lar tourist hotspot for Le­banese from across the coun­try, as well as va­ca­tion­ing ex­pa­tri­ates, Arab tourists, and even for­eign vis­i­tors. The area is lo­cated south­east of Beirut and com­prises many tourist must-sees, from the his­toric towns of Beited­dine and Deir Al Qa­mar to the Shouf Bio­sphere Re­serve. The re­serve is a des­ig­nated pro­tected area cov­er­ing 440 square kilo­me­ters, strad­dling three gov­er­norates (Mount Le­banon, the Bekaa, and South Le­banon) and en­com­pass­ing 22 vil­lages and three an­cient cedar forests: Barouk for­est, Maasser Al Shouf, and Ain Zhalta. The forests are home to the largest sin­gle con­cen­tra­tion of ce­drus­libani in Le­banon, ac­count­ing for 25 per­cent of the re­main­ing cedar forests in the coun­try. Un­doubt­edly, the re­serve is the sin­gle big­gest tourist at­trac­tion in Shouf, but along its pe­riph­ery are many things to see and do as well. With an in­crease in vis­i­tors and a rise in the num­ber of fully loaded Pull­man buses trundling up to the cedar forests on any given Sun­day, vis­i­tors are seek­ing places to stay, places to eat, ac­tiv­i­ties to do, and lo­cal crafts and ar­ti­sanal foods to buy. Lo­cal busi­nesses, mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, and re­serve of­fi­cials are begin­ning to re­spond to these tourists’ needs.


Last year, the re­serve reg­is­tered 85,966 vis­i­tors com­pared to 72,411 in 2015. Vis­i­tor num­bers have shown a steady in­crease since 2010 when they are num­bered just 58,073, ac­cord­ing to the re­serve’s lat­est an­nual draft report re­leased to Ex­ec­u­tive. This year, vis­i­tor num­bers have gone up be­tween 15 to 20 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to Nizar Hani, the gen­eral man­ager of the Shouf Bio­sphere Re­serve. In­come from re­serve vis­i­tors’ en­trance fees in 2010 was just LL242.8 mil­lion, whereas last year en­trance fees to­taled LL524.8 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to the report. “Most vis­i­tors—95 per­cent—are Le­banese. The rest are for­eign­ers liv­ing in Le­banon; we also got some Iraqis vis­it­ing this year too,” Hani says. The re­serve is also help­ing pro­mote lo­cal busi­nesses by of­fer­ing vis­i­tors dis­counts at lo­cal restau­rants. “What few vis­i­tors know is that the ticket you buy to en­ter the re­serve en­ti­tles you to a 5 to 10 per­cent dis­count at se­lected lo­cal restau­rants in the area,” he says.

The re­serve and lo­cal mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties are do­ing all they can to help pro­mote the re­gion as a com­plete pack­age. On week­days, tick­ets to en­ter the re­serve are dis­counted to en­cour­age vis­i­tors. “This year we in­tro­duced horse-rid­ing in the Ain Zhalta for­est. Among the other tourist ac­tiv­i­ties in the area we have hik­ing and camp­ing, we have snow­shoe­ing in win­ter, we have the Assaf sculp­ture mu­seum and the Rachid Nakhle Cul­tural Cen­ter, which com­mem­o­rates the man who wrote the lyrics to our na­tional an­them,” Hani says. The re­serve is a trea­sure house of unique flora and fauna, in­clud­ing 520 species of plants; it is also a des­ig­nated Im­por­tant Bird Area (IBA), and eco­tourism area. “The re­serve is the south­ern­most ex­tent of ce­drus­libani and has 296 species of birds and 32 species of mam­mals,” Hani says.


The Shouf Bio­sphere Re­serve rep­re­sents an im­por­tant bol­ster to the eco­tourism sec­tor in the Shouf, ac­cord­ing to In­vest­ment De­vel­op­ment Au­thor­ity of Le­banon’s web­site, which notes that the re­serve pro­vides “op­por­tu­ni­ties for eco­tourism that re­main un­tapped.” Ac­cord­ing to a 2015 Shouf Bio­sphere Re- serve report, the re­serve gen­er­ates an av­er­age of $19 mil­lion an­nu­ally in rev­enue from a range of ac­tiv­i­ties, from eco­log­i­cal and food pro­duc­tion to eco­tourism. Tourism alone gen­er­ates $700,000 an­nu­ally in and around the re­serve, while biomass char­coal pro­duc­tion gen­er­ates up to $1 mil­lion an­nu­ally, honey pro­duc­tion gen­er­ates $450,000, and hy­dro­elec­tric power gen­er­ates $1.3 mil­lion. Wa­ter bot­tling gen­er­ates up to $3.3 mil­lion, not count­ing grid wa­ter pro­vi­sion, which gen­er­ates up to $12.2 mil­lion in rev­enue. Hani says that only 10 per­cent of eco­log­i­cal ser­vices at the re­serve can be mon­e­tized. “While the re­serve is the main at­trac­tion, many things are needed to help eco­nomic growth in the re­gion, like de­vel­op­ing and im­prov­ing qual­ity of eco­tourism ser­vices,” Hani says. The Shouf is the largest district in Mount Le­banon, it has a pop­ula-

The re­serve is a trea­sure house of unique flora and fauna, in­clud­ing 520 species of plants

tion of over 200,000 and a high lit­er­acy rate. The district has over 64,000 hectares of per­ma­nent agri­cul­tural land, 51 per­cent of which is ded­i­cated to olive-tree plan­ta­tions, although the moun­tains are draped in pic­turesque vine­yards, there are only two op­er­at­ing winer­ies in the Shouf.


The re­gion is get­ting very so­cial­me­dia savvy when it comes to pro­mot­ing its at­trac­tions. The web­site au­then­tic­ pro­motes the re­serve and gives use­ful in­for­ma­tion about the re­gion’s flora and fauna and its many tourist of­fer­ings. The re­serve’s Face­book page al­most dou­bled in fol­low­ers from just 11,000 in 2010, to 19,300 last year. The Ja­balna Fes­ti­val’s Face­book page is also help­ing pro­mote and ex­pand the re­gion’s cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties. In Septem­ber, the fes­ti­val or­ga­nized the Na­tional Dabke Day un­der the motto “The Dabke Must Go On” at Maasser Al Shouf cedar for­est, which had 8,000 peo­ple in at­ten­dance, ac­cord­ing to Hani.

“To at­tract tourists, we rely on the Au­then­tic Shouf web­site, which pro­motes the whole of Shouf. Other than that, we rely on pri­vate sec­tor ini­tia­tives,” says Elie Nakhle, mayor of the mu­nic­i­pal­ity of Barouk-Frei­diss. He says that his mu­nic­i­pal­ity and oth­ers in the re­gion do not have the funds or re­sources to un­der­take mas­sive pro­mo­tional cam­paigns on their own. Among the en­trepreneurs that have em­braced so­cial me­dia as a pro­mo­tional tool is the Moukhtara-based restau­rant Shal­lalat Nabeh Merched. Es­tab­lished in 1965, the eatery is nes­tled in the shade of the open­ing of a nat­u­ral cave, un­der a rock for­ma­tion from which a nat­u­ral spring gushes out. The lo­ca­tion at­tracts sum­mer vis­i­tors look­ing for a cool spot to re­lax and have a meal. The restau­rant be­gan pro­mot­ing it­self on­line three years ago.

Ma­jed Hus­sam Ed­dine, the owner and man­ager of Shal­lalat Nabeh Merched, says on­line pro­mo­tion helped put the eatery on the map, but

The web­site au­then­tic­ pro­motes the re­serve and gives use­ful in­for­ma­tion about the re­gion’s flora and fauna and its many tourist of­fer­ings

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