BEIRUT: As the summer season draws near, Tourism Minister Avedis Guidanian met with representatives of the hospitality sector in anticipation of “Visit Lebanon 2017,” a four-day event to encourage visitors. “The Tourism Ministry is organizing a four-day event at the end of May. It’s going to be a touristic exhibition. The idea is to bring international companies such as tour organizers, convention organizers to Lebanon,” the tourism minister told The Daily Star.
According to Guidanian, the first two days of the event will focus on international to domestic business-to-business exchange with representatives from over 76 countries attending. The last two days will be reserved for a tour around the country.
“They’ll visit the restaurants and experience our nightlife. It’s like an invitation to familiarize themselves with Lebanon and see what we have to offer,” he said.
While European and Arab companies have been common partners in these initiatives, the minister noted that more attention has been paid to promote Lebanon in Eastern countries such as China, Russia and India.
Azzi Holiday, a travel agency and tour operator, is one of many domestic partners involved in the “Visit Lebanon 2017” initiative. Dory Azzi, founder of the company, told The Daily Star that this was the first time since the company was founded in 1995 that he had seen such an active ministry. His operation will be involved in hosting event-goers from airport greetings, to sightseeing.
“This is the first time we have worked with someone in the government,” Azzi said. “We hope that Guidanian stays the minister, he’s very active.”
Azzi, who was confident that the event would bring results, noted that the company had already experienced an uptick in comparison to previous years.
“Yes, of course we expect more people to come. We expect more people coming from the Gulf and from Europe,” he said. “There are a lot of initiatives from the French to bring in tourists. We are trying to appeal to new market such as the Far East, so we’ll see what happens.”
Peter Edholm, director of Sales and Marketing at the Phoenicia Hotel, was equally as confident that the summer season would be successful for Beirut’s glitzy hotspot.
“We are definitely more positive this summer, for sure, in terms of yearly growth. We’ve increased our budget on a yearly basis, so the results are expected to be positive,” Edholm said. “We’ve had a good year so far and I’m convinced it will continue throughout the summer.”
The representative of the Phoenicia noted that while last year the country saw a “surge” of Egyptians arriving in Lebanon for weddings and business, he expected such figures to drop as the Egyptian pound has decreased in value over recent months. Nonetheless, with U.S. President Donald Trump’s controversial travel ban, Edholm noted that the Phoenicia did expect a spike of visitors coming from Arab countries.
“We’re sure to see growth among the Middle Eastern market, you can quote me on that,” he said. “With the travel ban, a lot of people have become a bit restricted in their movement, so we think this will bring growth to Lebanon.”
Frequently cited by those nostalgic for pre-Civil War Lebanon, the “golden age” of the country enjoyed prominent visitors from neighboring Arab countries and those around the world. Following the Lebanese Civil War, Lebanon has had a mixed track record of attracting visitors.
Following the onset of the Syria crisis, the country was hit again by a significant drop in arrivals from 2011-13. In recent years, the numbers have gradually improved but are yet to meet pre crisis years. According to the Tourism Ministry, 2016 had the highest amount tourists since 2010 with almost 1.7 million visitors.