Lebanon campaigns to revive tourism amid economic crisis

BEIRUT – The Lebanese Newspaper An-Nahar, in cooperation with Lebanon Economic and social council, launched on November 30 on #GiveLebanonABreak campaign, calling on Lebanese officials to end their political wrangling and give the Lebanese people a break in December to spend the holidays in peace.

However, this campaign has been widely criticized.

Campaign organizers say its aim is to give the Lebanese a chance to catch their breath, away from political clashes and tense sectarian rhetoric, in light of the high cost of living, declining trade and production, increase in poverty and exacerbation of various crises.

Faraj Obaji, writer and journalist at An-Nahar, told Al-Monitor, “We wanted to have some kind of calm and stop the political quarrels that stress everyone. “

He said: “We got this idea because we thought Lebanon needed a break; all sectors, professions and individuals need a break in order to be able to work. Politicians need to cut back on statements and focus more on serving the interests of the country and saving it from the overwhelming economic crisis. “

Artists, journalists and actors took part in the campaign, some of whom appeared in the promotional video, including Al-Nahar editor-in-chief Nayla Tueni. They adopted the “time out” sign and thousands of people shared the video online.

Participants stressed the need to allow Lebanese, especially expatriates, to spend the holidays with their family and friends, to allow traders and industrialists to work and produce more, and for the tourism movement to return this month. , so that life can flourish again in Lebanon.

Some Lebanese were happy with the campaign, sharing the promotional video and using the hashtag, demanding a “break” from the holidays.

However, many criticized it, as they believed it was a naïve and superficial campaign. Some have even said that it was only aimed at wealthy families who have the luxury of weathering crises, and they have become very rare in Lebanon.

The backlash stems from the terrible reality and the frightening crisis experienced by the Lebanese, the majority of the population living in extreme poverty, to the point that some of them are unable to meet basic needs, let alone those who can no longer afford to put food on the table or heat their homes due to the high cost of fuel.

Deputy Assem Araji, head of the parliamentary health committee, said on November 19 that 70% of Lebanese were unable to guarantee the cost of their medical treatment.

Hana Saad, who works in a hospital in Lebanon, told Al-Monitor: “The countryside is good, and maybe we can say that it is beautiful because it calls for living in peace during the holidays. At the same time, she wondered: “Why a month’s break? Don’t we have the right to take a break for a whole year without clashes? “

Researcher and political activist Nizar Ghanem told Al-Monitor: “I don’t understand – who is the campaign aimed at? The main problem in Lebanon is how the wealthy elite took control of the state as a whole, and in order to save themselves, they decided to take the whole country hostage and make everyone pay.

Obaji noted, “Some people don’t understand the purpose of the campaign. The main goal is to achieve calm and live in peace, and this is the best gift the Lebanese can receive at this time. It’s not about celebrating the holidays.

On November 4, the Ministry of Tourism launched the “winter tourism package“, bearing the slogan” Crazy Love “to stimulate tourism in Lebanon in cooperation with travel agencies, aiming to attract expatriates and tourists during the winter season, by offering packages that include the cost of the hotel, tickets, etc., at a reduced price.

The general secretary of the Federation of Tourism Unions, Jean Beyrouth, told Al-Monitor: “The campaign, which lasted a month, was good, but it did not achieve the desired results.

He said: “Personally, I think the campaign was not marketed enough overseas; it was too short and didn’t have much exposure. But better results can be expected if it is revived and well promoted, especially since Middle East Airlines ticket prices were very encouraging for once.

Beirut noted: “We do not yet have a clear idea of ​​the tourist movement in Lebanon during the holidays. Many resort to last minute bookings given the volatile situation in the country. “

But Ghanem said: “Such campaigns are incompatible with the current reality in Lebanon. We have no electricity; we lack the minimum requirements of life. Why would tourists want to come to Lebanon? The solution is to carry out structural reforms that restore state sovereignty and improve the financial situation.

These initiatives come at a time when Lebanon is grappling with an unprecedented economic and political collapse. Meanwhile, the government is disrupted as the Amal movement and Hezbollah refrain from attending Cabinet sessions until Tarek Bitar, the judge investigating the devastating Beirut port explosion. , or dismissed, accusing him of political bias.

Despite the challenges and in light of all the ongoing nationwide campaigns and advertisements from local hotels, restaurants and tourist spots, the airport appears to be busy with nearly full flights to Lebanon.

In recent days, thousands of Lebanese and foreigners have taken the plane, while others plan to spend their vacations in Lebanon in the coming weeks.

Reem Selim, an Egyptian economic researcher who visited Lebanon on December 5 to attend a research conference at the American University of Beirut, told Al-Monitor: “I have visited many tourist areas in Lebanon. , including Raouche and Harissa, and I went on the cable car. [in Jounieh]. I was able to buy gifts and food at relatively inexpensive prices.

Selim said: “I was very excited to come to Lebanon despite the difficult conditions. Lebanon is a tourist country par excellence, and Arab tourists are able to adapt quickly to the prevailing crises.

Ziad Alam, a young Lebanese who went to work in Côte d’Ivoire two years ago, told Al-Monitor: “I arrived on December 22. Whenever I get the chance, I come to Lebanon and will continue to do so even without electricity, no security or the minimum requirements of life.

Alam noted, “I must be here for my family and friends, given the horrible conditions they are going through.”

Meanwhile, Amani Zeaiter, a Lebanese woman who lives in Belgium, told Al-Monitor via WhatsApp: “I always feel like I need to go back to the house where I grew up. I arrived on December 24 to spend the holidays with my family. . “

Zeaiter pointed out, “Considering the current situation, many people ask me to bring medicines and goods that are no longer available in Lebanon, so this is another reason why I am visiting.

Even if this is a ray of hope, the attachment the Lebanese have to Lebanon and the resilience they share is somehow enough to believe that things could still improve.

Beirut International Airport Director Fadi al-Hassan told Al-Monitor: “The number of arrivals in Lebanon during the holidays is more than excellent. Since the beginning of this month and until today [Dec. 23] 180,000 passengers arrived in Lebanon, the same number as in 2019, that is to say before the coronavirus pandemic.

He said: “Many visitors arrive from Dubai, Iraq and European countries, and flights to and from Istanbul [transit hub] are full. “

Hassan stressed that the numbers exceeded expectations, noting: “We did not expect these [high] numbers, in light of the news [coronavirus] change and the unprecedented economic and living situation in Lebanon.

He said he hopes this increase in the number of visitors will reflect positively on the country, with the hard currency they are spending in Lebanon.

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