BEIRUT – The Arab World Travel and Tourism Exchange (AWTTE) was held on October 16-19, 2008 after 2 years of absence, putting Lebanon back on the international tourism map both as a tourism and MICE destination. Over 6,300 from 39 countries attended AWTTE 2008. Trade visitors registered 40 percent of the total number of visitors with 20 percent coming from international destinations.
Under the patronage of the Lebanese President, General Michel Sleiman, AWTTE 2008 opened its doors on October 16 at BIEL Center in Beirut. The four-day exhibition were organized by the Lebanese Ministry of Tourism and Al-Iktissad Wal-Aamal Group in cooperation with Middle East Airlines and sponsored by the Investment Development Authority of Lebanon (IDAL) as Strategic Partner, Rotana as Host Hotel, and City Car as the Official Car Rental.
Pierretta Sfeir, tourism manager, City Car, Official Car Rental said, “After 2 years of obligatory absence, AWTTE 2008 helped the Lebanese tourism industry regain international credibility in this market. It also provided an unrivalled networking opportunity to both exhibitors and hosted buyers to communicate new ideas and launch new products.”
The event attracted 13 national pavilions with 5 national boards participating for the first time naming Cyprus, France, India, Iran, Jordan, Kurdistan region, Kuwait, Malaysia, Poland, Turkey, Sri Lanka, and UAE with the host country, Lebanon. AWTTE also registered 110 exhibitors with 54 percent international companies.
Majeda Behbahani, director of marketing and international relations, tourism sector, Kuwait Ministry of Trade and Industry, exhibitor commented, “For the fifth edition, Kuwait is participating at AWTTE considering its importance to develop bi-lateral relations between the 2 countries, as well as support Lebanon’s economy and tourism industry.”
Hrach Kalsahakian, Cyprus Tourism Organization, exhibitor said, “AWTTE has great potential to become a regional tourism exhibition, especially with the revitalization of the role of Lebanon. It is our aim to highlight our presence in the Lebanese market, and this exhibition is the gateway to Lebanese tourism.”
The opening ceremony was attended by Lebanese Minister of Tourism, Elie Marouni; Joranian Minster of Tourism and Antiquities, Maha Khatib; Minister of Tourism in Kurdistan Region Yuhana Namrud, chairman of Iraq National Investment Authority, Ahmad Rida; Director General of the Lebanese Ministry of Tourism, Nada Sardouk; and general manager of Al-Iktissad Wal-Aamal, Raouf Abou Zaki.
Minister Marouni commented by stressing the fact that the forum has been held successfully in Beirut notwithstanding regional tension and the world financial crisis, which is now considered to be the worst financial upheaval that hit the world since the great depression of 1929. Marouni added, “This event proves beyond doubt Lebanon’s ability to regain its previous role as a tourist destination and a strong economy in the region.”
Jordanian Minister of Tourism, Maha Al Khatib said, “Since my appointment as the President of Arab Ministerial Council for Tourism in its 11th round, I made sure to improve communication between Arab countries with [a] view of highlighting to all the immense and unique tourism resources and opportunities we have in our countries. I believe we have huge, untapped resources whether in cultural tourism or leisure tourism or even religious tourism.” Khatib gave the example of Petra, which was voted as one of the top wonders of the world and thus helped to increase tourism flows and income from tourism for the year 2008.
Chairman and general manager of IDAL, Nabil Itani, stressed the fact that Lebanon took second place in investment flows for the period 2005-2007. Lebanon also came in 10th among 141 countries worldwide. In 2007, financial flow to Lebanon represented 11.6 percent of the total GDP, and this is the highest share among all Arab countries. Itani concluded by stressing that investment in the tourism sector amounted to 87 percent of the total investments that were dealt with by IDAL.
In his opening speech, Al-Iktissad Wal-Aamal general manager Raouf Abou Zaki emphasized that the participation in 13 national pavilions and a large number of companies and institutions representing the tourism industry indicates the growing importance of tourism as a major component in the GDPs of many Arab countries. Mr. Abu Zaki suggested that AWTTEE is playing an important role as the leading platform for monitoring trends and discussing the future of Arab tourism industry. Abou Zaki remarked that plans to develop inter-Arab tourism cannot be based on isolated measures taken by individual countries but requires a regionally-coordinated effort to liberalize the market and facilitate the flow of tourism among regional markets.
Functions at the Exhibition:
The 2008 edition of AWTTE introduced special packages for companies operating in Lebanon, such as hotels, tour operators and airlines. These packages allowed pariticipating companies in Lebanon the chance to present their products, packages, invite their top clients from international tour operators as hosted buyers and set up one to one appointments with buyers via the online calendar, which was available to all exhibtiors and hosted buyers. Furthermore, trade and public visitors benefited from valuable prizes such as round trip tickets, holidays, weekend stays, and car rentals. These prizes were presented by exhibiting companies through a raffle draw transmitted live via radio.
The Association of Travel and Tourist Agents in Lebanon (ATTAL) organized a seminar on ISO 90001 targeted to local tour operators on how to obtain the ISO certificate which proves the quality management of their services. This initiative is highly important for the tourism sector in Lebanon and will optimize the services offered by this industry and its credibility to the international market. Furthermore, organizing such events makes AWTTE not only the place to network and meet international trade visitors and hosted buyers but also the platform to develop their products and services.
Hosted buyers had a full program with pre-scheduled appointments between buyers and exhibitors via AWTTE website. They were also taken on familirization trips to the must see places in Lebanon such as Jeitta Grotto, Ruins of Faqra and Faraya and the National Musuem. In addition, an optional post show hiking trip was organized for tour operators who wish to explore the beautiful sceneries of Lebanese Mountains and do an original activity as a FAM trip.
Social events were organized by the Lebanese Ministry of Tourism and Rotana, AWTTE 2008 Host Hotel. Also special invitations for dinners and lunches were hosted by Casino Du Liban in cooperation with ATTAL, Riviera Hotel, Movenpick Hotel & Resort Beirut and the InterContinental Mzaar Spa & Resort.
Paul Bernhardt, Journalist and Photographer, Open Media, Hosted Press: “This year’s AWTTE was excellent. As ever, the organisation was like clockwork and the hospitality second to none. I really appreciate your efforts, and the hike was one of the highlights. Well done!”
Fadi Abou Areish, Al Thuraya Travel and Tours, Exhibitor: “AWTTE had been a unqiue place to meet all our partners and friends in this industry. We surely thank the organizers for their support and efforts to make this event happen.”
The next edition dates will be announced during the World Travel Market as AWTTE will be promoted at the Lebanese National Pavilion.