Lebanon calls on all its expatriates to return home for the summer. Eager to resuscitate the country’s tourism sector, Walid Nassar, Lebanese Minister of Tourism, sent a message to the Lebanese expatriate community: “If you miss Lebanon, visit it this summer.

While the population of Lebanon exceeds four million inhabitants, 16 million Lebanese live abroad.

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

However, few people in Lebanon, one of Asia’s smallest countries, are convinced of the government’s efforts to woo tourists.

Lebanon’s economy, traditionally dependent on tourism, was devastated by the country’s political and economic instability in 2019 as international visitors stayed away from the destination. Covid further exacerbated the crisis, then there was the explosion at the Port of Beirut in 2020.

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

Why is tourism essential for Lebanon?

Publishing advertisements in the media and putting up a few posters is not enough, said Abbas Ayoub, a tourist guide in Lebanon. “The government may think it is doing its best to promote tourism, unfortunately its best is not enough.”

All we hear is the ministers talking, there is hardly any real work going on, said Roger Khayrllah, who works at a TVC production company in Lebanon. “The Lebanese people have never counted on the support of their government – it all depends on the private sector taking matters into their own hands.”

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

About 1.2 million tourists are expected to visit Lebanon this summer. In June, Lebanon welcomed 334,000 tourists, with Lebanese expatriates accounting for 75% of the total. The tourism minister said he expects tourism revenue of around $3.5 billion during the summer season.

During last year’s economic crisis, the Lebanese expatriate population even brought home medical and essential supplies for family members, as commercial airlines increased the baggage allowance for flights to Lebanon.

Noting that there has been a steady stream of Lebanese expats entering 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 multiple, 80 percent of their clientele are Lebanese expatriates, while only 10% are local and 10% are foreign tourists.

Only the tourism sector can contribute to the Lebanese economy, there is nothing else to fall back on, expats are a good source for the country’s tourism sector, Nasr said. “After the explosion in Beirut and the economic crash, it would not be an exaggeration to say that there would be no Lebanon without the expatriate Lebanese population.”

The best summer, so far

After two years of Covid, many Lebanese expats have recently visited the country, bringing fresh dollars and euros to spend in Lebanon while they enjoy their summer vacations, noted Viana Hassan, senior lecturer at the Lebanese University.

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

Flights and hotels are almost full until September and there are hardly any rooms available, especially in 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.”

Crowded hotels are definitely a good sign for a country where hundreds of tourist establishments have closed and several have been made redundant, following the onslaught of Covid. The unprecedented devaluation of the Lebanese currency and rising unemployment have further contributed to the country’s economic decline.

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

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

Nasr is also happy that things are now getting back on track and she is on the right path to making a profit. “The Lebanese expat community comes back to Lebanon to visit friends and family, and then they also get high value for their dollars and euros, just like 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 does not have the money to constantly promote itself as a tourist destination, Hajj noted.

Even if Lebanon resumes promoting tourism, the country’s unstable political situation, economic crisis, hyperinflation and poor infrastructure act as major obstacles to the country’s tourism prospects, noted tourist guide Ayoub.

“The government should instead focus on making airfare more affordable, improving the country’s infrastructure and forging better relations with Gulf countries,” Ayoub added.

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

An efficient tourism board with branches in some of the major source markets is another effective way to promote tourism, Hajj said. “This is a very important step to appoint tourism representatives around the world. I hope the government will appropriately support the promotion of tourism in this way.