After the end of the civil war in 1990, Lebanon was faced with many opportunities to boost back its economy. The political team in place at that time chose the highest money generator but also the most fragile sector which is tourism.
Throughout the years, governments leaned towards heavily encouraging touristic investments that proved to have catastrophic results on the economy whenever Lebanon is faced with bombings, assassinations, or any internal crisis; thus making Lebanon dependant on one main source of income.
As domestic tourism is low, Lebanon became dependent on Arab tourists looking for nightlife extravagances, good weather and endless shopping. But more privileges were given to them such as free visa upon arrival, facilities to purchase unlimited properties as well as special services in hotels and restaurants.
This economy revolving around tourism turned out to be a big failure, as many young Lebanese left the country to the Gulf after completing studies related to tourism, making them the new inbound tourists in their own country. This strategy pushed also many businessmen to invest in restaurants, pubs and hotels in safe touristic destinations such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Jordan and lately Erbil.
With a national debt on the rise, Lebanon should change its development strategy and invest in more solid sectors such as industry, agriculture and services, and turn Lebanon into a hub between the East and the West. The slogan “Made in Lebanon” should become a symbol of high quality goods, emitting an image of trust, satisfaction and value within the Lebanese and world markets.
But why is this summer crucial for Lebanon’s tourism?
Every year Lebanon is faced with security challenges and every year the same denial is communicated that everything is all right, to be followed by invitations to Arabs begging them to come back. Arabs are treated like tourists of salvation that will help Lebanon’s economy, we grant them facilities while they impose the most difficult terms on Lebanese visiting their countries, we treat them like kings simply because we want their money and not by respect or compassion.
This summer will not be that different from the previous ones, and that for the following reasons:
– Security: It’s the main issue that affects tourism in a country that mainly depends on this sector, whereas a single bombing or assassination can cancel hotel bookings. Suicide bombers targeting civilians and army checkpoints made their entry this summer in a way to heat up the Shiaa/Sunni conflict that is rising in Syria and Iraq.
– Overpopulation: Prior to 2011 Lebanon was delighted about the number of tourists entering the country in millions, but with the beginning of the Syrian war few were pleased to see the migration of millions of Syrians to Lebanon without a specific checkout date. They are now occupying houses, furnished apartments, hotels, beach and mountain resorts at low rates, depriving any tourists from finding a suitable accommodation and creating a general feeling of overpopulation in such a small country.
– Political instability: Recurring weekly protests and strikes by syndicates, airport staff, taxis and truck drivers are paralyzing the daily life in Lebanon. Add to that, a shameful consensus among the political figures on not electing a new president and keeping the same unconstitutional parliament until September. (Could they extend it again?)
– Expensive tourism: Prices keep on rising in Lebanon and could be compared to destinations such as Monaco and Zurich. Many tourist attractions increased their prices; for example the entrance at the beach resort Eddeh Sands in Byblos is 42,000 L.L. ($28) excluding any towels, drinks, food, entertainment or parking. This could sum up to 100$ per person for a day at the beach. Last year, a wealthy French family living in Lebanon was fed up with the exorbitant tariffs on beaches in Lebanon, and as a sign of refusal, they decided to buy a chalet on a sandy beach in Cyprus where they travel every weekend.
Unfortunately, every event in Lebanon is always perceived like the famous half-filled glass dilemma, whereas a pessimist is always paranoid and uncertain about the future and the optimist living in denial is satisfied with what’s offered; but in reality a Lebanese should be realistic and always ask either this glass is filled with water or piss.