Lebanon bouncing back


(eTN) – Going skiing in Lebanon?? Why not? It might sound strange, but Lebanon really does have it all, including 6 ski resorts! The country’s mountain area is receiving increasing interest, especially from Arab travelers. It is one of the only countries in the Middle East where the skiing season runs from December to April and is just a 2-hour drive from Beirut. The skiing village of Kfardebian is becoming increasingly popular, with new boutique hotels that opened this year, and ski resort, Mzaar, is boosting about the opening of InterContinental Mountain Resort & Spa – the only InterContinental hotel in the world with direct access to ski slopes.

In 2010, Lebanon has seen considerable growth in the tourism industry, which can be attributed mainly to the return of stability and peace in the country and to the rapid development of several locatons in the captial and main cities of Lebanon.

Beirut has been number one out of 44 destinations, according to the New York Times and has also been designated as the “World Book Capital City 2010.” With Beirut being the cultural epicenter of Lebanon, Beirutis live life to the fullest here, taking in all the city’s gastronomic delights and activities until the early hours of the morning.

While Arabic is Lebanon’s official language, English and French are widely spoken. Most Lebanese speak at least two or three languages, and visitors will find no problems communicating, which helps travelers a lot.

This year, Lebanon is unparalled in terms of accolades and attractions and is aiming to receive 2 millions arrivals by the end of this year. The average stay in Lebanon is 9 days, with 77% percent of the tourists staying in Beirut, said Lebanon Tourism Minister HE Fady Abboud during at press conference in London at the World Travel Market (WTM).

“But we cannot cope with a tourist increase of more than 10-15% percent,” the Tourism Minister stated, “In our country you get value, good value, for money, and it also [is] one of the safest countries.”

The total European vistors to the country was 453,522, of which UK visitors were the third largest to visit Lebanon, totaling 50,027, after France and Russia.

After long years of depression, Beirut is booming and so is the hospitality industry in the city. HMH opened it first Coral Suites Al Hamra in the heart of city, and CEO Michel Noblet sees an enormous potential in Lebnanon, which is emerging as the leading tourism and business hub in the region.

Earlier this year, a Four Seasons opened a 26-story hotel, which soars above the city and took more than 10 years to build. Before the end of the year, Hilton Hotels will be opening a 162-room contemporary hotel overlooking the city. There also plans to build a US$100 million, 270-room, 5-star Grand Hyatt in the downtown area, in addition to a new Kempinski Hotel, which is under construction.

But does this city need so many global players from the hotel industry? Mrs. Nazira El Atrache, General Manager of the five-star Hotel Le Bristol, Beirut, believes that in terms of competition, every single hotel has its niche. “We will be needing more 3- and 4-star hotels,” she said.

The Lebanese financial sector was able to retain the trust and confidence of Arabs and foreign investors, who have a share of over 40% percent in investments in the country. The economic situation is stable and very strong, confirmed the Minister, with more than the largest proportion of these investments being held by locally-established commercial banks, precluding the need for them to acquire risky assests on the international financial market.

“Lebanese is not a nationality – but a profession,” HE Fady Abboud stated.

Financial receipts from expatriates all over the world explain the broad increase in the flow of funds to the banking sectors over the past few months.
As a matter of fact, the majority of the Lebanese population resides abroad. Nearly 4 million live in Lebanon, whereas 10 million live in South America – altogether 15 million Lebanese are living around the world.

Beirut is famous for its excellent cuisine and is a playground for the rich and famous. Anyone who wants a taste of Lebanon can even find it in one of London’s 500 Lebanese restaurants, and don’t forget to order a bottle of good Lebanese wine, preferably from Ksara, Chateau Kefraya, or Chateau Musar.

Lebanon is one of the oldest sites of wine production, dating back 5,000 years to the Phoencians who were tending the vineyards, making wine, and trading with other cities long before the Greek and Romans arrived. The major wineries are located in the Southern Beqaa Valley, an hour-and-half drive from Beirut and its wineries, offering wine tours and wine tastings all year around.

Bekaa’s major attraction is Baalbek (you can’t top it!) with some of the largest Roman temples ever constructed located here. The Baalbek International Festival, the oldest and most well-known cultural event in the Middle East and Eastern Mediterrean, takes place in July and August 2011. And classic music lovers should not miss the reknowned Al Bustan Festival, which is now in its 18th year and will take place from Februray 22 to March 27, 2011.