Lebanon’s tourism industry saw a major rebound in 2009, the World Tourism Organization announced this week.
The tourism monitoring group found inbound tourism to Lebanon in 2009 to have risen by 39 percent over 2008 figures, with 1.8 million tourists entering the 4 million strong country.
“There are more and more [tourists] every month,” Daniel Eid, Manager of the Eid Travel Agency in Lebanon, told The Media Line, adding that he expects the increase in bookings to continue in the coming year.
Lebanese Tourism Minister Fadi Abboud told local newspapers last month that he expects tourism activity in the country to grow by a further 10 to 20 percent in 2010.
Professor Marcus Marktanner at the American University of Beirut said Lebanon’s incoming tourism brought money both directly and indirectly into the economy.
“By some estimates, tourism will bring 4 to 5 billion dollars directly into the economy, make up 13 percent of Gross Domestic Production [GDP] and another 7 to 8 billion [dollars] indirectly,” he told The Media Line.
Many of Lebanon’s incoming tourist come from the 14 million Lebanese who have left the country at various points throughout its violent history.
Analysts warn, however, that the influx of tourists may be a double-edged sword for Lebanon.
“The situation is similar to an oil boom,” Marktanner said. “Tourism makes Lebanon a rent economy. What most tourists find attractive about Lebanon does not require any major investment. It is mostly sun and fun tourism, with very little sustainable spillover effects. During the summer months, tourism drives up prices and clogs up roads, which is a burden shared by all Lebanese.”
“The positive spillover effects, however, are highly concentrated,” he said. “They go mostly to hotels, restaurants and shops in and around Beirut.”
“Most Lebanese would probably appreciate if the rise in tourism would at least also bring about some investment into the improvement of public infrastructure, like better roads, electricity supply, and telecommunication services,” he continued. “This would not only increase the fun for tourists but also the one of the Lebanese.”
Tourism has long been a critical component of Lebanon’s economy, as the country lacks natural resources and years of civil war have hampered the establishment of a significant manufacturing industry.
Prior to the Lebanese civil war, which ravaged the country from 1975 to 1990, Lebanon was referred to as the ‘Switzerland of the Middle East’ and the capital Beirut known as ‘the Blue City’ for its architecture.
Lebanon’s tourism industry started to recover following the end of the civil war but was hit again by a war with Israel in 2006.
The recovery from the 2006 took almost two years, and in 2008 the country’s tourism industry began showing signs of recovery.