A place where Arabic heritage and European affluence merge into a divine union, Lebanon offers tourists something truly extraordinary. Aleksandra Wood speaks to the country’s tourism industry experts to uncover transformative trends and forecasts.
Lebanon’s vivacity has long illuminated the Middle East with its rich history, awe-inspiring mountain and seascapes, exuberant nightlife, world-famed cuisine and scintillating city of Beirut, which is often referred to as the ‘Paris of the Middle East’. The country is a tourism expert, equipped with all of the necessary means to please even the most discerning tourist.
Elaborating on this was head of sales, CORAL Beirut Al Hamra Hotel, Jessica Abdallah: “Lebanon has always been a destination with a bouquet of tourism services. You can always come for business, leisure, cultural or religious tourism and much more. The broad variety of tourism products makes Lebanon a stand-out destination.”
Travellers have persistently scoped out Lebanon for its Levantine-Mediterranean culture, as well as its modern European take on Arabic hospitality, where everyone is welcome to experience the best of both worlds.
Diving further into the details of Lebanon’s prowess, general manager, Phoenicia Hotel, Beirut, Dagmar Symes said: “One of the prime draws is always the rich heritage of the country, with a wealth of ancient sites and ruins to visit. Culture and art are also strong attractions, especially as Lebanon’s profile as a creative art hub is on the rise. It is also increasingly seen as a lively culinary and wine destination. Lebanon is quite unique in this region in being able to offer all of this in one place.”
Major political reforms have swept the country’s face throughout 2018 to finally clear room for a blooming hospitality industry. With the election of a new parliament and the emergence of a new council of ministers, the dormant markets are re-awakening and hospitality players are putting their best foot forward to build on the positive changes.
“Lebanon is getting its tourism channel back. Year-to-date, 2018 has seen a significant improvement in comparison to the previous year. Tourist arrivals increased by five per cent in the first quarter of 2018, to reach a total of 362,398,” general manager, Ramada Downtown Beirut, Yasmine Eid Malouf revealed to TTG.
In terms of arrivals by country of origin, tourists from Europe in Q1 of 2018 indicated the highest year-on-year increase of 19.7 per cent, reaching a total of 128,231 visitors. The US followed with a 9.4 per cent increase to reach 51,362 visitors, while the number of tourists from Oceania and Africa rose by 8.7 per cent and 2.6 per cent respectively.
The new wave of change has certainly reshuffled the country’s source markets, with Lebanon keenly welcoming back travellers from the GCC, Europe and the US, as highlighted by general manager, Kempinski Summerland Hotel & Resort, Daniele Vastolo: “This year we have seen the GCC countries flock to Lebanon, putting them back in the lead in the country’s tourism and economic sector. The current top 10 nationalities are Iraq, the KSA, Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar, Syria, the US, the UK, Jordan and France.”
Meanwhile, emerging markets are not slipping by unnoticed, with Lebanon’s U Group WorldWIDE enticing an array of newcomers. Its product manager, Elie Nammour elaborated: “Currently, we are offering services to diverse markets of origin, stretching from India, Indonesia and Malaysia in the East, along with Turkish and Jordanian nationals looking for a proximity city break. It is highly likely that Australian and Latin American customers will be the emerging markets to spot.”
And so it seems that each of Lebanon’s sectors have been enjoying noticeable fruition over the last year, inclusive of its aviation industry. To accommodate the outpour of travellers arriving on the beloved destination’s shores, several European airlines have commenced new services to the country’s dazzling capital, Beirut, namely from France. Meanwhile, Lebanon’s national carrier, Middle East Airlines, touched down in Madrid, Spain, for the very first time in June, thus opening a brand-new window of opportunities.
Following suit is the nation’s MICE industry, on which positive feedback was expressed by Phoenicia Hotel’s Symes: “2018 has been a busy year, filled with new initiatives. We can say that Lebanon is firmly back on the map as a hub for regional congresses and conferences. We are particularly placing a focus on organising more familiarisation trips for the MICE segment.”
The forecast for Lebanon’s tourism for the remainder of 2018 looks favourable indeed, as revenue per available room (REVPAR) at Beirut’s three-, four- and five-star hotels is projected to register a noteworthy boost, catapulting the city into the top spot as the fastest growing among 24 major cities in the region.
“Each year is a promising one and Lebanon is witnessing prosperity in the tourism and hospitality industry, as the hotels are offering their best rates and packages with different facilities for family stays, while the whole country is blooming with vibrant festivals in Baalbeck, Beiteddine, Jounieh and Beirut,” general manager, Radisson Blu Martinez Hotel, Beirut, François Galoisy shared.
PROFUSION OF POSITIVITY
Lebanon’s offering consists of glorious mountainscapes, glistening beaches and spirited city life; travellers need not look far to experience its naturally-conceived beauty.
Nowadays, there is always the lingering wish to go in depth, to excavate unexplored territories and to find out what a destination is truly made of.
A recurring trend in today’s travel industry is the act of completely immersing oneself in the culture of the destination, as expressed by Vastolo of Kempinski Sumerland Hotel & Resort: “While many travellers are still content with simple sightseeing, today, they are seeking authentic travel experiences. They are curious to know about the country’s culture, [thereby] engaging with the people, going to places visited by the locals and trying authentic food. Putting it simply, travellers want to venture into their world and be a part of the culture.”
And beyond the classic interest in natural wonders, history and retail, new trends are rising to the fore, as revealed by U Group WorldWIDE’s Nammour: “When visiting Lebanon, travellers look for experiences ranging from wine tasting, archeological discoveries, museums, sports and adventure, to nature hiking and holistic retreats. Some categories, such as families, [may prefer] to attend fun shows with entertaining and educational activities.”
Nammour further noted that social curiosities, unusual architecture, personalised experiences, unexplored trails, as well as improved nightlife seem to be the highlight of travellers’ journeys to Lebanon this season.
Interestingly, the number of local residents travelling abroad for holidays is significantly reducing. Families are instead opting for a weekend escape to local resorts in the company of friends and relatives. This has made a definitive impact on Lebanon’s economy – another positive change warmly embraced by its tourism industry.
Meanwhile, religious tourism is an ever-flowing trend within the country. Lebanon remains a pivotal destination for pilgrimage and its holy lands have welcomed many a religion from across the globe. Ramada Downtown Beirut’s
Malouf disclosed: “Seniors travellers – especially from Europe – will opt to visit historical and religious places such as Tyr, Jeita Grotto, Baalbeck, Saida, Harissa and Hamra.”
As a result of the prevailing political stability in the country, and of course, a wealthy touristic offering, Lebanon’s future as a coveted destination is painted with bright and vivid colours, and its hoteliers are excited to take on the challenges 2018 has yet to bring.
“It is a fact that there is a positive mood prevailing following the general elections held in May,” Nammour concluded. “The outlook for the tourism sector is very promising amid a boom in visitor arrivals, favoured by a positive security environment.”
Lebanon is keeping this newfound positivity close to its heart, as it strives to perfect its offering and reclaim its place among the Middle East’s exalted destinations.