Bridge of the Moon
Bridge of the Moon
Bridge of the Moon
Quick recovery and vast development have characterized the success of the Lebanese tourism sector. The Lebanese government has continuously displayed efficiency and agility within the changing economic environment, with the goal of maintaining a sustainable tourism industry. In the past few years, Lebanon has been rated the top destination to visit by the New York Times, ABC news and CNN—time and time again.
The West East Institute attributes the recovery of Lebanon’s tourism industry, after decades of conflict, to tax relief measures and incentives employed by the government. The real impetus began in 2006, in partnership with the United Nations World Tourism Organization, the Lebanese government developed initiatives such as reducing poverty, creating jobs, and stabilizing the economy by developing sustainable tourism. $4.4 billion was spent on the tourism sector to rebuild, redevelop, and rebrand.
WE WILL RETURN
Bankmed’s Market and Economic Research Division’s publication, “Analysis of Lebanon’s Travel and Tourism Sector” for July 2015 provides the most comprehensive and up to date statistics for the sector. They note that the overall trend between 2014 and 2015 has seen improvements and the start of a recovery from the growth slowdown that typified the sector between 2011 and 2014. Regional instability and security issues had a negative domino effect across the Levant, depressing the marketing power of “brand Lebanon.”
Nonetheless, as the local situation relatively stabilized in the first five months of 2015, the number of tourists to visit Lebanon in this period was 524,334, an 18% increase from 2014. The increase was consistent across international visitors: the number of Arab tourists rose by 19%, Europeans by 15.3%, Americans by 17.3%, Africans by 43.6%, and Australians by 29.4%. Passenger numbers at Beirut International Airport also increased during this period with a 9% surge compared with the same period in 2014. The travel and tourism sector’s contribution to GDP grew during 2014 to $13,388, a 10.4% increase from 2013. Tourist expenditure increased by 7% in the first half of 2015 compared to the first half of 2014. The largest spenders were from the Gulf, with Saudi Arabia accounting for 16% and the UAE 14% of tourist expenditure. When divided by segment, fashion and clothing accounted for 72% of the tourism consumption market, watches and jewelry 15%, and home and garden 4% in 1Q2015. The impact of the increase affected employment figures. Employment revived to 313,000 employees in the direct and indirect travel and tourism sector in 2014, an 88,000 increase from 2013.
OH! HOW MANY PEOPLE THERE WERE
Despite the trend of a decline in hotel occupancy rates since 2010 due to the deteriorating security situation, increasing stability in 2015 has led to vast improvements compared to 2014 with a 9% increase in hotel occupancy rates for the first 5 months of the year. Hotel occupancy has averaged at 55% for this period. However, 2014 did witness the highest rate since 2010 with 67% occupancy in June. In 2014, the average rate per hotel room was $165, with revenues per available room at $86. The growth in the tourism sector in the first half of 2015 initiated an increase in hotel room prices. The average rate per hotel room for this period was at $174, with revenue per available room at $97. As far as regional competitiveness is concerned, Beirut saw the second best improvement in the hotel occupancy rate for 2015, following Cairo with an 18% YoY increase. Beirut’s hotel room prices were higher in the first half of 2015 than regional competitors Amman, Cairo, and Manama.
POEM OF THE STATES
The World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index (TTCI) for 2015 ranked Lebanon in the top 100 countries worldwide, and in the top 10 of the MENA region surpassing Kuwait, Yemen and Algeria. Lebanon ranked 69th in travel and tourism infrastructure, 80th in air transport infrastructure, and 89th in ground and port infrastructure. With regards to travel and tourism policy and enabling conditions Lebanon ranked 88th. Lebanon was an MENA frontrunner in prioritization of travel and tourism, ranking 29th globally. Lebanon also received high rankings in health and hygiene, ranking 39th internationally, and achieved a relatively good ranking for price competitiveness, ranking at 59. The TTCI rankings also highlighted areas where Lebanon could make improvements. These include areas such as environmental sustainability, international openness, sports facilities, conference facilities, the business environment, safety and security, and most critically the level of natural and cultural resources including total known species, total protected areas, natural tourism, digital tourism, and the quality of the natural environment.
Despite these shortcomings, Bank Audi note the presence of five Lebanese sites inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, and nine submitted on the Tentative list, as a vital initial step to conservation. The World Heritage sites include: Anjar (inscribed 1984), ruins of a city founded by Caliph Walid I at the beginning of the 8th century, a unique testimony to city planning under the Umayyads; Baalbek (also inscribed 1984), a Phoenician city and religious center that was known as Heliopolis during the Hellenistic period. Retaining its religious function during Roman times, when the sanctuary attracted thousands of pilgrims—it is one of the finest known examples of Imperial Roman architecture; Byblos (also inscribed in 1984), one of the oldest Phoencian cities where many ruins of successive civilizations are found—it is directly associated with the history and diffusion of the Phoenican alphabet; Ouadi Qadisha (the Holy Valley) and the Forest of the Cedars of God (Horsh Arz el-Rab, inscribed in 1998), one of the most important early Christian monastic settlements in the world, standing in dramatic positions in a rugged landscape, near the great forest of cedars; and Tyre (inscribed 1984), a Phoenican port city with important archaeological remains, mainly from the Roman times—Tyre is known for inventing purple dye and founding the prosperous Phoenician colonies of Cadiz and Carthage.
THE BEDOUIN LANDSCAPE
The Ministry of Tourism, Hospitality Services and Lebanon Traveler in partnership with Beyond Beirut and funded by USAID have developed a Rural Tourism strategy for Lebanon. This initiative will be implemented by DAI-Cooperation and Common Action in Rural Tourism, in collaboration with over 150 stake-holders. Lebanon Traveler report it will provide key directions and practical actions to improve rural tourism and market Lebanon’s rural destinations beyond the commonly known sites. The Rural Tourism strategy, announced in December 2014 proposes 8 directions: 1) to develop and improve marketing and promotion to increase consumer awareness and the visibility of rural tourism destinations, products and services, domestically and internationally; 2) institutionalize rural tourism at a community level; 3) improve and enforce conservation and protection of the environmental, cultural, historical and agricultural heritage of rural areas; 4) diversify, modernize and improve the quality of rural destinations, products and services; 5) improve policies, legislation, and regulation of the rural tourism sector along with enforcement of laws across the value chain; 6) improve information and data collection and management to support sound planning; 7) develop the culture of rural tourism among the young generation and in the education system; and 8) improve domestic and international business linkages and networking (cross cutting objective).
Martine Btaich, an independent consultant in social, economic and sustainable tourism development explains, “Stakeholders can come together, prepare the ground, engage local communities to preserve what they have left of their rural areas and invest responsibly.” It is hoped that this will spur international visitors and domestic and diaspora tourists alike to discover the country’s hidden and beautiful heritage. Btaich continues, “Rural tourism and internal travel is a great resilience card for tourism and for the local economy; and we need to see more Lebanese taking the rural trails.”
In line with the drive to boost rural tourism, development of Lebanon’s urban centers is continuing in the hope of attracting high-end visitors. Downtown Beirut has seen the most regeneration and investment, with property development firm Solidere, Société Libanaise pour le Développement et la Reconstruction de Beyrouth, steering the initiative. The private-public hybrid, founded in 1994 by ex Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and passed down through the generations of his family, have redeveloped the Marina in collaboration with British architect Angus Gavin. The next phase of Solidere’s development plan is the luxury residential district of Mina El Hosn. This development will include towers and penthouses aimed at attracting diaspora Lebanese visitors back to the city. Another project, a 315-meter glass tower, planned by Renzo Piano along with 70 ha of redevelopment extending out to the seafront, will rival the tower blocks of the Gulf.
Another development, Beirut Souks, designed by Spanish architect Rafael Moneo with Kevin Dash, takes the form of a vast shopping mall. The $300 million complex is host to a variety of international shopping brands including Burberry and Tag Haeur. The Rockefeller Foundation compare it to London’s Westfield Stratford City mall in floor size with a design that “follows the ancient Greek street grid, but does so in stridently modern form with a series of grand vaulted arcades and interlocking courtyard blocks.” New additions planned for the mall include a high-end department store designed by Zaha Hadid and a spa designed by Peter Marino.
THERE IS HOPE
Lebanon’s agility for quick recovery and vast development have well positioned the tourism sector to bounce back from the instability of the past few years. Lebanon’s large diaspora, keen on holidays ‘back home’, with targeted development in rural tourism and conservation, and large investments in the capital—inspired by the artistic vision of leading architects—are putting the country back on track to be one of the most popular destinations on the Mediterranean. In an interview with TBY, Laure D’ Hauteville, founder of the Beirut Art Fair says, “To boost tourism in Lebanon, it would be ideal to promote the country as an ‘art destination’ and offer different highlights on the cultural scene.” She notes that this, combined with the developments in the urban centers and in sustainable tourism would open roads between cultures, broaden horizons and attract international tourists, artists, performers and writers.
Organized by Laure d’Hauteville, Pascal Odille, Marine Bougaran, and Rania Tabbara, Beirut Art Fair opens its doors for the sixth time, reaffirming its commitment to Middle Eastern collectors and cultural players. In the era of the artistic globalization, Beirut Art Fair promotes dialogue between the Middle Eastern artists, cultural institutions, and art collectors, reinforcing the fair’s status as a major international reference for artistic creations of the Middle East, North Africa, as well as South and Southeast Asia. Specializing in contemporary art, this year the fair will welcome around fifty international galleries, representing hundreds of artists from across the region, reconfirming Beirut’s position as the cultural and intellectual capital of the Arab world, as well as the bridge between West and East.Since the fair’s inception in 2010, Lebanon’s capital experienced a significant artistic development. This year marks an important momentum in the Lebanese art scene. In addition to the establishment of the Aishti Foundation, dedicated to Tony Salame’s art collections, the famous Sursock Museum reopens its doors to visitors in October. Established in 1961, Sursock was the first fine arts museum in Lebanon. Located in the ancient palace bequeathed to the city by Nicolas Sursock, the museum will again be a part of Lebanon’s cultural landscape.Following the success of the 2013 edition, Beirut Art Week #3, will take place from September 15th until 22nd, allowing Beirut’s locals and visitors to enjoy monumental artworks and installations exhibited in the streets and shops of the capital’s Central District. Once again, Beirut will again live under the rhythm of contemporary art allowing the exhibiting artists to express themselves in the urban landscape of Lebanon’s precious capital. The program, composed of around twenty interactive projects, will combine performances, installations and sculptures, exhibited throughout Beirut’s most emblematic landmarks, namely Martyr’s Square, Beirut Souqs, Zaitunay Bay, Saifi Villge, and Harbour Square. Not common at typical art fairs and museums, Beirut Art Week will offer a journey through digital art, combining education and fun, inviting the public to discover its highlight via truly exceptional program.