We haven’t worked with any clients from Lebanon (yet) but it’s always interesting to look at what’s going on in other countries and economies. Beirut is the most liberal city in the Middle East and is the destination of choice for many holiday-makers in the Arab world. There are just under four million Lebanese inhabitants and during summer the capital's population swells, as many of the 15 million Lebanese living abroad return for their holidays.
But this year is different.
According to the World Tourism Organisation, tourist arrivals dropped by 24 percent between 2010 and 2011 and this trend is likely to have continued in 2012. Sectarian violence in Syria has unsettled the northern port city of Tripoli and tensions between neighboring Israel and Hezbollah – whose main sources of funding are Syria and Iran – are higher than they have been for years.
As the situation in Syria has deteriorated, governments across the world have advised their citizens against all non essential travel to Lebanon, including the United Arab Emirates and the UK – two important sources of tourism and business.
Unsurprisingly, local businesses are suffering. The restaurants, bars and clubs that are usually bustling with visitors and residents are much emptier than last year.
However, Lebanon is flourishing in many regards. Gross domestic product is projected to grow by around three percent this year, well ahead of the troubled economies of the West. Construction is surging: look in any direction across Beirut and you will see several cranes – or winch as they say locally.
For its part, the UK is ramping up business and tourism ties with Lebanon, its sixth largest trading partner in the Middle East. The UK’s GREAT campaign, launched back in September 2011, is a global effort but in Lebanon the UK Embassy has gone the extra mile. Red phone boxes have appeared in Beirut’s centre, black London cabs join the chaotic flow of traffic and Union Jacks can be seen all over the city’s streets and shopping malls. There have been tea parties, fashion shows and even a British car exhibition which has helped to promote the UK to locals. But the campaign is equally important in attracting UK businesses and tourists to Lebanon. Tom Fletcher, UK Ambassador in Beirut commented:
We also want to show Britain the huge potential of Lebanon as a stunning, resilient, talented destination for tourists and business. A country that is shaking off its recent history to take its place as the dynamic meeting point of three continents.
Indeed, it is precisely because Lebanon is at the meeting point of three continents that it finds itself in the uncertain position it is in today. However, as regional stability returns and global demand resumes, the country will stand to prosper from its position. We hope to be welcoming and working with Lebanese businesses as these two countries continue to strengthen their partnership.