In an interview with the Daily Star yesterday, Pierre Achkar, the head of the Lebanese Hotel Owners Assocation, spoke about the poor tourism season this year, which has seen revenues in the hotel sector fall by 38 percent in 2011.
He noted that regional and domestic unrest, particularly the Syrian revolution, has discouraged tourists from coming to Lebanon, and Arab Gulf countries have also not given the current government their blessing. Ramadan falling in the middle of the tourist season also did not help.
Achkar made the suggestions to the Tourism Ministry (which he says has not used its budget wisely): Lebanon should seek non-Arab tourist markets; the ministry should intensify its promotional campaigns, distribute tourist pamphlets to foreign travel agencies, and forge partnerships with foreign travel offices.
I think however that there are policies which the ministry and the government need to adopt if we want to drastically improve what we intend to sell to tourists. Specifically:
Clean up beaches
Let’s face it, most of our shoreline is littered with soft drink cans, cigarette butts, empty chips bags, broken glass, dead chicken… So the first step is to clean up our beaches, and find a way to impose penalties on those who litter.
Beaches should also be made accessible to all, and not to the few who can afford expensive entrance fees to beach clubs. Hotels and beaches illegally occupy beaches which everyone has the right to access freely; one solution is to allow people not staying in the hotel access to the beach, but charge them for the use of umbrellas and sunbeds (as in Cyprus). This point is very important, because access to the beach should be open and free, encouraging more tourists to visit, and thus boosting the economy by spending their money on other things, such as restaurants, shops, etc (as in Tunisia).
Clean up & develop archaeological sites
Secondly, the ministry should clean up our archaelogical sites (for example, the Roman city and arena in Tyre is always full of litter and Sidon castle is not always spotless). Guide books and maps should be made available, and cafes and gift shops built to generate income. A more ambitious plan would be to include headphone guides in several languages and exhibitions.
Improve public transport
All taxis should have meters – so that tourists (& locals!) are not forced to haggle with taxi drivers over the price (taxis in virtually every Arab country have meters). Buses should be more organized, with clearly advertised routes, maps, and timetables.
These are the quick (and relatively easy) policies I could of think of that the Tourism Ministry and by extension the government could implement, if it was truly committed to boosting the economy through tourism. Some of the suggestions above are easy policies (like clearing up litter) that Tourism Minister Fadi Abboud could have worked on instead of wasting money on sexist promotional videos.
Please send us your suggestions!