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Lebanon: Tourism on the Mend
Lebanon is one of those countries blessed with most of what it takes to attract visitors year round: sun, sand, stunning scenery, snow and a burgeoning hospitality industry catering to the whims of holiday-makers.
However, it has also had what most countries seeking a thriving tourism industry don't want: bad headlines. While the tourism sector experienced slow and steady growth after the end of the 1975-90 civil war, it took another hit last year after a resurgence of violence, with the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005 making news headlines around the world.

That act, and a spate of other high profile attacks, saw foreign visitor arrivals fall by an estimated 11% in 2005, dropping to just over 1m.

A year after the Hariri assassination there is new optimism in the Lebanese tourism sector, with investments being made and visitor numbers expected to break records.

In an interview with Reuters in mid-May, Lebanese Tourism Minister Joseph Sarkis estimated that 1.6m tourists would visit Lebanon this year, bringing in some $2bn of much needed foreign currency. However, he added a note of caution by saying that the positive projections were dependent on the continuity of stability and the absence of further violent incidents.

The unstable security situation had a negative effect on tourism last year, although it was not that dramatic, Sarkis told Reuters. But with the halt in security incidents the situation has been improving and we have very encouraging signs this year.

Another to share the sense of optimism for the sector is head of the IMF's Middle East and Central Asia department, Mohsin Khan. In May, the Fund released its latest country report on Lebanon, with many of the dire warnings about the need to reduce debt levels and implement economic reforms repeated as they have been in previous studies.

However, while the IMF report noted that tourism had suffered in 2005, Khan said things looked better for this year.

They are expecting the best year in the history of tourism, he said in an interview with the Agence France Presse (AFP) on June 9.

Some of that optimism is justified by the figures, with 350,000 overseas tourists visiting Lebanon in the first four months of the year, a 30% increase on the same period in 2005.

While many of the attractions that made Lebanon a favorite with European tourists before the civil war still remain, the demographics of overseas visitors has changed. Up to 45% of overseas arrivals are from Arab countries, especially those from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) zone, with the shift in part seen as a response to stricter visa requirements for Arab tourists imposed in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks in the U.S.

This shift has also been reflected in foreign investment in the Lebanese tourism sector, with firms from a number of GCC countries buying into the industry. The latest of these was the Bahrain-based International Investment Bank (IIB), which on June 13 announced a $25m mixed-use real estate development in downtown Beirut, the 29-storey Grand Tower.

According to Aabed al-Zeera, IIB's chief executive officer, the move is a reflection of the economic potential of Lebanon.

Lebanon is rapidly re-establishing itself as a leading tourism and business hub in the Middle East region, and we are confident that this is the right time to invest in its further growth, al-Zeera said.

Another major project with Arab involvement is the rebuilding of the Grand Hyatt Beirut, being financed by a joint Saudi Arabian-Lebanese holding company. Destroyed in the civil war, the hotel is scheduled to reopen its doors in late 2008.

One who touts the benefits to be had from investing in Lebanon's tourism industry is Nabil Itani, the chairman and general manager of the Investment Development Authority of Lebanon (IDAL), the national development authority charged with facilitating major construction projects and other investments in Lebanon.

The current regional economic boom, driven by factors such as high oil prices and a strong real estate sector, is resulting in investor-friendly conditions that form a critical phase for furthering Lebanon's economic prosperity Itani told reporters on June 12 during a media tour of projects supported by IDAL. We must take full advantage of current economic progression by making greater efforts to attract Arab investment to all sectors of the Lebanese economy by showcasing the prosperity and stability of the country and highlighting the competitive nature of sectors such as tourism.

Oxford Business Group

source: http://www.naharnet.com/domino/tn/NewsDesk.nsf/0/A7C2C9653C871175C2257192002CB3BC?OpenDocument
 

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The UNWTO is confident that Lebanon will be able to reconstruct its tourism sector and continue being an attractive international travel destination.

“UNWTO and its members stand behind Lebanon,” said UNWTO Secretary-General, Francesco Frangialli. “Our sector is only a part of the losses suffered in Lebanon, but tourism is of great importance for the economic recovery and development of the whole country.”

The Organization held a joint press conference with the Ministers of Tourism for Lebanon and Jordan, as a first example of UNWTO's support and vote of confidence in Lebanon's positive tourism future.

Minister of Tourism of Lebanon Joseph Sarkis said “there are already signs that regional business is picking up and we are very confident in the medium term outlook.”

Lebanon is known as a unique tourism destination. The Special Programme for the Reconstruction of Lebanon's Tourism Economy, being developed by the UNWTO, will focus on the assessment and economic impact analysis of the recent conflict, restoring market confidence, and formulating a strategic plan for sustainable redevelopment of tourism.

According to UNWTO figures, the recovery in Lebanon during the first quarter of 2006 (+49% in tourist arrivals over an 11% decline in 2005) was totally halted from July on and international tourist arrivals from July to September declined by over 58%. Total arrivals in the first nine months of the year are down by nearly 9%. Having expected 1.6 million tourists in 2006, the new estimations indicate that the year will end down on 2005 figures.

Conflicts and tensions have slowed down growth before but do not produce significant decreases in overall volumes of flows. “We have repeatedly seen months with substantial drops in arrivals that were followed by flows bouncing back quickly and strongly once stability re-emerged,” Francesco Frangialli noted.

Significantly no hotel facilities were damaged and the rebuilding of general infrastructure is now underway. The challenge now, besides reconstruction, is stability in the destination and rebuilding confidence in source markets, particular those of Europe.

Resilience and recovery

The realistic focus for a clear tourism recovery is the 2007 summer season “but even now we are seeing traditional Lebanese fortitude and resilience” Mr Frangialli said.

The region in general and Lebanon in particular, has a proud history of resilience to external shocks and an enormous capacity for recovery from crisis situations as proven by its excellent performance in recent years.

The Middle East has been the fastest growing region in the world in terms of international tourism in recent years. International tourist arrivals grew at an average rate of 10% annually over the last fifteen years, more than double the world average of 4%.

From a base of 9.6 million in 1990, arrivals to the Middle East peaked at 39 million in 2005 (4.8% of the world total). International tourism receipts grew from US$ 5 billion in 1990 to nearly US$ 28 billion in 2005, equivalent to over 3% of the region's GDP.

Tourism has thus become a vital sector in the socio-economic structure of the Middle East, contributing to the diversification of oil-based economies and to the creation of employment.
 

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Downtown Beirut moves to salvage holiday season

Downtown Beirut moves to salvage holiday season




Promotional campaign aims to bring customers back by promising deep discounts


Friday, December 15, 2006
By Lysandra Ohrstrom
Daily Star staff


BEIRUT: As the anti-government demonstrations in Downtown Beirut enter their third week on Friday, embattled businesses from the hospitality, trade, and tourism sectors are striking back with a campaign aimed at boosting consumer spending and luring shoppers back to the commercial centers of the capital.

Some of Lebanon's leading luxury retailers convened at the Phoenicia InterContinental Hotel on Thursday morning for the launch of the seasonal print, billboard, and television advertising blitz-"Bhebak bil Chiteh" (I love you in Winter) - conceived by H&C Leo Burnett.

Some stores, especially those in the Beirut Central District (BCD), are also offering discounts at locations in neighborhoods particularly hard-hit by the demonstrations in the hopes that shoppers might loosen their purse strings in honor of Christmas, the New Year, and Eid al-Adha.

Aishti chairman and CEO Tony Salame, Middle East Airlines (MEA) president Mohammad Hout, Lebanese Hotel Syndicate president Pierre Ashkar, and ABC director Robert Fadel each spoke at the event - and each pleaded for a political truce so that the economy could recover.

Merchants will request VAT exemptions from the government, Salame said in his speech, in an attempt to give consumers a stronger reason to spend. Hotels and MEA will be offering package deals to woo foreign visitors back to Lebanon to celebrate the holidays, and the Ministry of Tourism has agreed to exempt foreigners from temporary visa fees.

According to a statement released after the press conference, a delegation of businesspeople will soon meet with President Emile Lahoud, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, Speaker Nabih Berri, Finance Minister Jihad Azour and Central Bank Governor Riyadh Salameh to ask that they "live up to their historic responsibilities."
"The business operators will also ask all political parties and forces in Lebanon to prevent any negative repercussions on commercial establishments due to their actions and to actually support economic activities in Lebanon," the statement added. "The commercial establishments also plan to give special offers and major economic incentives to Lebanese customers and foreign visitors throughout the duration of the campaign."

The details of the particular incentives will be released later by individual retailers.
Indeed, many BCD merchants give every appearance of not being able to sustain poor business for much longer. The owner and manager of the Lina's sandwich franchise, Sammi Hochon, said he will give the situation three or four months to recover before he shuts the Downtown branch.

"None of my locations are doing as well as they should because people just are not spending much right now," Hochon told The Daily Star on the sidelines of the press conference. "But business in Solidere has dropped 80 percent from this time last year. Lunch is just starting to pick, but for the rest of the day we are empty."
In 2003 and 2004 consumer traffic was consistent enough to offset the high rents in Solidere, but things have not picked up since their decline two years ago, Hochon explained.

Virgin chairman Jihad Murr told Agence France Presse last week that if the situation persists he may have to close his flagship location in Martyrs Square, which reopened last Monday after more than a week of remaining shut due to the opposition demonstrations. Murr said he has laid off 20 percent of the total staff since the July-August war with Israel, and estimated that each day of closure costs the company $50,000 in losses.

Red streamers now hang from the windows of the former movie theater, presumably in place to offset the coils of barbed wire blocking off access to the site of slain former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's gravesite. Though protesters are still forbidden from erecting tents in the designated demonstration zone of the capital, consumers are welcome to bypass army checkpoints to do some Christmas shopping.
Virgin circulated a mass email this week to this effect.

"In an effort to revive our beloved Virgin and all other stores and restaurants at Downtown striving to overcome this dire situation that threatens the very stability of our country's economy, we invite all of you to visit Downtown on the 14th of December starting 5:00 pm and participate in restoring life to the heart of Beirut," the email read.

City Mall in Dora hired advertising firm BBDO Impact for an outdoor campaign of its own to promote the mall during the holiday season. Mall manager Rony Aoun insists that the Christmas-themed billboards - depicting a scantily clad, elfish women spraying perfume into an already blazing fireplace, and emblazoned with the slogan, "X-Mas Folly," presumably an ironic take on the current conflagration gripping the country - are part of a purely commercial campaign.

"There is nothing political about it," Aoun said of the image in question, which also carries the words, "dreaming of a warm Christmas." "The fireplace gives the feeling of warmth," he said. "We tried to recreate the mood last year by decorating, putting up children's animation, and offering some holiday activities."



Copyright (c) 2006 The Daily Star
 

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'Kiss of Life' campaign hopes to revive Beirut

BEIRUT: In an attempt to revitalize Downtown Beirut socially and economically, the capital's municipality is inviting Lebanese to flock top the city center tonight in a campaign called "The Kiss of Life." "[Downtown] is turning out to be a morbid story," said Rola Ajouz-Sidani, a Municipality member. "So what the municipality of Beirut decided to do is to call on everybody, all sects, that if you love Beirut, let's translate this love into action. Let's show the world that Beirut is not dead and tell the workers that we're in solidarity with them and that their jobs are secure."

Since opposition protesters thronged Downtown Beirut on Dec. 1, businesses have been struggling to stay open. Employees increasingly face the prospect of lay-offs.

"Out of 100 restaurants, six have taken a final decision to close. About 20 to 25 have not reopened but have not laid off their workers. The ones that reopen just close in the day, not the night," said Paul Aryss, president of the Restaurant Owners Association.

Many shops and restaurants are open irregularly if at all, as consumers worry that the protests may escalate.

"La Posta was closed from Dec. 1-17," said one La Posta employee who was not authorized to speak and wished to remain anonymous. "Afterward, we opened, but just for lunch. We opened at night again on Dec. 21, to give Maarad Street ambience, but we received about five or six customers all night."

Though he didn't know much about the "Kiss of Life" campaign, he noted that La Posta was fully booked last night and tonight.

"We're trying our best to stay open," he said.

Other restaurants, like Casper and Gambini's, aren't so lucky. The Downtown branch has merged its operations with the branch in City Mall, to service all of Beirut and Metn.

"We've been closed since, the first day of protests," said the restaurant's director, George Helou. "Employees are not receiving their full month's pay as we're splitting shifts between [Downtown employees] and those at other branches."
http://www.dailystar.com.lb

With the holiday season, business is improving and employees are not as affected as they were in early December.

"We are very worried about the post-holiday season as we're wondering what will happen when all the Lebanese from abroad leave in January," said Helou.

"We're worrying from a business level and for our employees' [livelihoods]."

Casper and Gambini's - like most businesses downtown - is suffering especially heavy losses because of high costs.

"We're losing thousands of dollars a day due to rent," Helou said.

Some restaurants will decide mid-January whether to shut down their businesses.

"If the situation continues there will be many [restaurant] closures," said Aryss.

The municipality hopes to assemble more than 2,000 people Downtown at 8:30 p.m. to dine, shop and walk around for the evening.

"Let each participate according to their abilities. If you can't buy dinner, just fill the streets by walking Downtown," Ajouz-Sidani said. "On the contrary, poverty is not a drawback. I'm proud to walk with those people to show Beirut includes everyone and is still a vibrant city."

Last week, the Lebanese Women's Council urged hundreds of members to lunch Downtown, to stimulate the district's economy.

Downtown businesses hope "The Kiss of Life" and campaigns like it will rekindle the area, demonstrating that despite the situation, the country will plow forward.

"We hope the party will be a trigger to encourage people to go Downtown at night," Aryss said.
 

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Tourist Associations Urge Opposition to Abandon Downtown

Lebanon's Tourist Associations have pleaded with Opposition leader Gen. Michel Aoun to find a new site for the round-the-clock Hizbullah-led protest that has crippled downtown Beirut since Dec. 1 in a bid to topple the government.
"The sit-in has and still is inflicting a lot of damage on Beirut and elsewhere on Lebanon," said Pierre Ashqar, head of the hotel owners following a meeting with Aoun in Rabieh on Friday.

He called on Aoun, whose Free Patriotic Movement is part of the Opposition, to move the sit-in "which has damaged tourism" to a new location.

Ashqar said Aoun was positive and promised to look into the possibilities of setting up a committee that would deal with relocating the protest spot.

Downtown Beirut is filled with top international fashion shops and vast array of cafés, bars, pubs, restaurants, clubs as well as posh hotels
 

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Lebanon committing 'tourism suicide'

Broumana, Lebanon: A political crisis in Lebanon has dealt a blow to its tourism industry, compounding the woes of a sector which lost its 2006 peak summer season to war between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas, the tourism minister said.

The sector accounted for nine per cent of Lebanon's national income in 2005, Joseph Sarkis said, and would have climbed to 12 per cent in 2006 if not for the July-August war.

Lebanon's reputation abroad, which had slowly recovered since the civil war, had again been undermined by conflict.

"We have not been able to benefit from this important sector, which should be Lebanon's oil," he said

Political standoff

Sarkis said that since the war the political standoff, which has at times sparked lethal street clashes, had caused a 39 per cent fall of visitors to Lebanon in January and hotel occupancy rates were currently well below the seasonal average.

"We have a wonderful country but we are committing suicide," Sarkis said at his home in the village of Broumana in the mountains overlooking Beirut.

Much of central Beirut has been blocked off since December by an open-ended anti-government pro-test. Rebuilt from the ruins of the 1975-1990 civil war, central Beirut's shopping district and cafes have been a draw for Arab summer holiday makers.

Sarkis said bookings for this year were so far "not at all encouraging", but added that tourists from Arab countries and expatriot Lebanese would quickly plan trips to Lebanon if the political standoff was resolved.

1m visitors this year

Sarkis said that despite current instability, he expected at least 1 million visitors in 2007 - around the level of 2006 when Lebanon had been on track for a record tourism year before war erupted.

"If it hadn't been for the war and events in Lebanon, we would have finished 2006 with 1.7 or 1.8 million tourists - a growth rate of 10 or 15 per cent a year," he said.

Reuters
 

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Restaurants team up with ministry to lure tourists over the Internet

BEIRUT: Lebanese restaurant owners and the Tourism Ministry launched a new Web site on Wednesday aimed at wooing tourists to visit restaurants here and to revive the moribund tourism industry in general. The sector has suffered more than most since the summer 2006 war with Israel and the ensuing political skirmishes, and the site is the latest in a series of attempts to resuscitate tourism, including ad campaigns and pleas for public assistance. The site - www.restovisa.com - sells $25 tickets to restaurants throughout the country, with a minimum purchase of four vouchers. The ticket price is subtracted from the bill when the tourist visits the chosen eatery, and the tickets go into quarterly raffles for plane tickets, hotel accommodation, car rentals and summer camps for children.

The restovisa.com project aims to provide a quick cash injection so restaurants can meet costs (most important among them employee wages), end layoffs and stem the flood of Lebanese hospitality talent emigrating to the Gulf. Many university students have taken to working shifts in restaurants and cafes as a way to pay tuition costs, so lost jobs in the sector could also translate into more college dropouts.

"There's a domino effect," Michel Ghosn, project manager for restovisa.com, told The Daily Star on Wednesday. "The big danger is that if those guys lose their jobs, they won't be able to pay their university. It's very, very important to try to keep jobs in Lebanon - this is the main idea."

The site's target audiences are Lebanese living abroad, as well as Arabs and other fans of the nation, for whom Lebanese cuisine is as much of an attraction as any other tourist destination here, said Nada Sardouk, director general of the Tourism Ministry. The site also features pages catering to various tourist needs, such as travel agencies, car-rental agencies, nightclubs and ecotourism.

The country's tourist destinations have been largely abandoned since last year's war, prompting the launch of restovisa.com and similar projects. Industry leaders have appealed to the government for aid, and Tourism Minister Joe Sarkis and Finance Minister Jihad Azour promised on March 7 to use funds pledged at January's Paris III donor conference to pay the interest on a series of emergency long-term loans to tourist enterprises.
http://www.dailystar.com.lb

The tourism sector, however, was never mentioned by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora in his press conference on Wednesday updating the use of Paris III funding, and industry representatives have heard nothing from the Tourism Ministry since the subsidy promise.

"Let's hope that there will be another conference where he will announce that something will be given to the tourism industry," said Paul Ariss, president of the Syndicate of Restaurant and Cafe owners.

The Cabinet also vowed to forgive property taxes and municipal fees for 2006 and 2007 for businesses in the Beirut Central District (BCD), which have been almost entirely abandoned since the opposition began its protests December 1. More than half of the companies in the BCD have shut their doors since December.

BCD entrepreneurs, largely dependent on tourism, have also actively pursued their survival - they are preparing to sue the state for compensation and have commenced a marketing campaign to lure tourists. The campaign placed ads in newspapers throughout the Gulf in the last 10 days, and a television commercial will be filmed within the next week, said Tony Salameh, CEO of Aishti and leader of the BCD businesses. The spot should run not only on Lebanese satellite stations such as LBCI and Future, but also on the various MBC networks.

"It's not the best-ever ad, but it will remind people" about Lebanon, Salameh said.

Tourism accounts for roughly 10 percent of Lebanon's $22-billion GDP, and the industry employs upward of 150,000 people. Slightly more than 1 million tourists visited Lebanon last year, and Sarkis has projected a similar figure for 2007. As an example of the industry's hardships, Lebanon's 350 hotels piled up $280 million in losses in the second half of last year.

http://www.restovisa.com/
 

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One of the problems is that there is a minimum for purchases and that is 4 which might discourage some people who would want less. When something is done to help promote and help there should be no minimums. It is as if you are asking some one for a loan and telling them i wont take anything less than this. In arabic there is a saying (Shahad ow msharat)
 

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^^ U R RIGHT.But still,it's better than nothing.
 

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yes but you guys are not looking at it business wise. If they dont put a minimum then they wont do much, lets say you order only one plate, its like what half price already?? how much will the owner get out of it a 1$?? If they put a minimum of 4, then they force the customers to buy more so they can make more money and pay off their debt, other wise they will be working like dogs getting at the end of the day hardly anything
 

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^^ yea i've read the thing twice looking for the mistake ... wats the mistake Jayme??? there better b a mistake otherwise :bash: :bash: :bash:
 

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Son of the cedars
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:D lol
maybe jaime thinks the Mistake is in the word Rafic :D it's written Rafic in french ya Jayme :) and not rafik :)
 
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