Skift Take

Lebanon does know that its diaspora is essential to help revive the country's tourism economy, but the government would need to do more than just roll out marketing campaigns to convince more tourists to visit the country.

Lebanon is calling all its expatriates back home for the summer. Keen to resurrect the country’s tourism sector, Walid Nassar, Lebanon’s tourism minister, sent a message to the Lebanese expat community — “If you miss Lebanon, visit it this summer.”

While Lebanon’s population is over four million, 16 million Lebanese are said to be living abroad.

In June, Nassar announced the launch of the 2022 summer tourism campaign — “Ahla Bhal Talleh” (Welcome to Lebanon) — from Beirut’s Rafic Hariri International Airport. The government did not mention how much it would be spending on the campaign.

However, not many in Lebanon, one of the smallest countries in Asia, are convinced of the government’s efforts to woo tourists.

The traditionally tourism-reliant economy of Lebanon had been wrecked by the country’s political and economic instability in 2019 as international visitors stayed away from the destination. Covid further exacerbated the crisis and then there was the blast at Beirut port in 2020.

In 2018, tourist arrivals to the country on the near-Asian coast of the Mediterranean had reached 1.9 million while the direct contribution of travel and tourism was valued at $3.8 billion, accounting for 7 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.

Why Is Tourism Essential for Lebanon?

Posting advertisement in media and putting up a few posters isn’t enough, said Abbas Ayoub, a tour guide in Lebanon. “The government may think they are doing their best to promote tourism, sadly their best is not enough.”

All that we hear is the ministers talking, there’s hardly any real work being done, said Roger Khayrllah, who works in a TVC production company in Lebanon. “The Lebanese people have never counted on their government for support — it’s all about the private sector taking charge.”

However, almost everyone agreed that resurrection of the tourism sector is an effective way to resuscitate the country’s economy and the expat community can contribute greatly to this.

Around 1.2 million tourists are expected to visit Lebanon this summer. In June, Lebanon welcomed 334,000 tourists, Lebanese expatriates made up 75 percent of the total. The tourism minister has said that he expects tourism revenues of around $3.5 billion during the summer season. 

During the economic crisis last year, the Lebanese expat population even ferried medical and crucial supplies back home to family members as commercial airlines increased the baggage allowance for flights into Lebanon.

Noting that there has been a steady stream of Lebanese expats coming in to the country lately, Viviane Nasr, founder and CEO of SAVI SAL, the official operator of CitySightseeing Beirut, said that for their hop-on hop-off bus trips, 80 percent of their clientele is Lebanese expats, while only 10 percent are local and 10 percent is made up of foreign tourists.

Only tourism sector can contribute to Lebanese economy, there’s nothing else to fall back on, expats are a good source for the country’s tourism sector, Nasr said. “After the Beirut explosion and the economic crash, it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to say that there would be no Lebanon without the Lebanese expat population.”   

The Best Summer, So Far

After two years of Covid, a lot of Lebanese expats have been visiting the country lately bringing along fresh dollars and euros to spend in Lebanon while they enjoy their summer vacation, noted Viana Hassan, lecturer at the Lebanese University.

“This year the summer season will be the best. All the hotels and restaurants are fully booked even though the prices are high,” said Hassan, who is actively involved in academic and research work in tourism in Lebanon.

Flights and hotels are almost fully booked until September and there are hardly any rooms available, specially at beach hotels, said Yehia El Hajj, founder of The Vibes World. “We are expecting a great season for the travel and hospitality industry this summer.”

The packed hotels are definitely a great sign for a country where hundreds of tourist establishments closed down and several were laid off, following the Covid onslaught. The unprecedented devaluation of the Lebanese currency and the rise in unemployment contributed further to the country’s economic decline.

Tourism in Lebanon has always been closely linked with social progress, especially when it comes to strengthening communities and preserving local heritage. Tourism is also one of the leading drivers of job creation across the country.

“In Lebanon, tourism is the industry we love, and care for its sustainability, for it brings out the best in people, changes the perspective, and opens the doors for exchanging culture, knowledge, and experiences,” said Hajj.

Nasr is also glad that things are now getting back on track and she’s on her way to making profits. “The Lebanese expat community is coming back to Lebanon to visit friends and family and then they are also getting high value for their dollars and euros as the Lebanese pound has been.

Challenges to Promote Tourism

To attract tourists to a destination, it is very important to promote it in the international market. However, Lebanon doesn’t have the money to constantly promote itself as a tourist destination, noted Hajj.  

Even if Lebanon does pick up on tourism promotion, the unstable political situation in the country, the economic crisis, hyperinflation and the weak infrastructure act as major deterrents to the country’s tourism prospects, noted tour guide Ayoub.

“The government should instead work to make airlines tickets more affordable, improve the infrastructure in the country and work to forge better relations with the Gulf countries,” added Ayoub.

While promoting the destination, it is also essential for tourists to know that Lebanon is a safe country, even for solo female travelers, said Khayrllah. “The hardest part is portraying safety, it’s not something that can be advertised, travelers need to be in the country to experience it.”

An effective tourism board office with branches in some of the major source markets is another effective way to promote tourism, opined Hajj. “This is very important step to appoint tourism representatives all over the world. I hope the government will appropriately support to promote tourism in this manner.”

Tags: asia monthly, coronavirus recovery, diaspora, economy, lebanon, revenue, tourism marketing

Photo credit: Around 1.2 million tourists are expected to visit Lebanon this summer. djedj / pixabay