"A Lebanese Rural Tourism Strategy to Life- A New Holistic Vision to Revive Lebanon's Tourism Sector"
Beirut, February 11, 2015 – Under the patronage of his Excellency the Lebanese Prime Minister, Tamam Salam, the Ministry of Tourism launched its new initiative, “Rural Tourism Strategy for Lebanon” in the Grand Serial and in the presence of the Minister of Tourism, Michel Pharaon; the Minister of Environment, Mohammad El Machnouk, the Minister of Information, Ramzi Jreij; the Minister of Youth and Sports, Abed El Motleb Hannawi and the Minister of Culture, Raymond Araiji.
Following the Lebanese national anthem and opening remarks, short video was screened under the theme of “Live Love Lebanon” featuring vibrant snapshots of Lebanon’s natural scenery taken by ordinary Lebanese citizens.
In his opening speech, PM Salam thanked the audience and the Minister of Tourism for launching this initiative saying, “I would like to thank Minister Pharaon for initiating this national strategy, and we really hope that this project prospers and lives up to our aspirations and expectations.” He added, “Tourism was, and is still one of our greatest national concerns for God has bestowed this natural bliss upon Lebanon, and it is our duty to preserve it.”
Salam then added that tourism cannot thrive without security and stability pointing out that a security plan was established ten months ago and is still being implemented across the country. He said, “Ten months ago, we accomplished a lot of success. Now, I am confident that we will be able to march forward and achieve more success stories in the tourism industry. Even though our country still suffers from certain political instabilities and insecurities, yet we will continue to exert our efforts to implement security and stability in all regions. This is being achieved through the endless collaboration between the different security forces and departments of state.”
Before dedicating this accomplishment to the soul of late PM Rafic Harriri, Salam ended by saying, “We are amidst a political crisis; our nation will not heal unless democracy wins again and a new president is elected for a nation, without its head, is incomplete.”
Following Salam’s speech and as the organizer of the event, Pharaon also stressed the importance of striving towards a better touristic future despite all insecurities and instabilities. He said, “This initiative comes at a time when Lebanon is suffering from a tourism slump with regional discord and domestic security incidents scaring away many tourists. However, we should not lose faith; on the contrary, we should all stand together and have faith in our national institutions and on top of them, the Lebanese Army.”
Pharaon moved on to elaborate on the Ministry’s plan of reviving Lebanese tourism especially after the slump of 2012. In this light, he launched the “Live Love Lebanon” campaign which has so far contributed to a gradual increase in the sector, scoring a growth of 15 % compared to the previous year. He commented, “We are approaching a new phase, and we hope that our new initiative, which incorporates other ministries and unions as well as many public and private institutions, will compensate for the paralysis which has been creeping into our institutions and develop projects that could be followed up by active committees.” He also expressed his hope that successor governments would continue the exerted efforts.
Pharaon also assured that Lebanon can increase the value of its rural tourism incredibly if the newly adopted strategy is implemented properly especially by balancing migration as well as immigration whether from the rural villages to the cities or from Lebanon to countries abroad. In addition, Pharaon stressed the importance of preserving rural areas and developing their resources mainly through safeguarding the environment and encouraging all expatriates and immigrants to invest in their home land once again.
He commented, “Even though rural tourism at the moment does not constitute more than five percent of the overall tourism in Lebanon, we are confident that in five years rural tourism will grow between 15 to 20 %, creating job opportunities and safeguarding our heritage in all regions.”
Pharaon explained that the sector is vast and includes natural, religious, agricultural and other types of tourism. He said, “This initiative has helped to shed light on areas outside Beirut where we have found a potential to develop tourism.”
In concluding, Pharaon thanked everyone who has contributed to this initiative whether on an individual or an institutional level, highlighting how such initiatives can be the best and most righteous path towards a more prosperous future.
Following, the Minister of Environment, Mohammad El-Machnouk remarked that his ministry and the ministry of tourism are but one as they complement one another. He also added that all parties should adopt the initiative of rural tourism as it aims to strengthen the relationship between the people and their land and discourage them from relinquishing their roots and heritage.
El Machnouk also promised that the number of natural reserves will be on the rise and will exceed 30 reserves. He also considered that national interest dictates that the population should be scattered across the different regions and not just in the capital, Beirut. This could be achieved through reviving the rural areas as per El Machnouk.
Jreij believes that it is crucial to develop rural tourism locally, especially among the youth. Likewise, he believes that it is essential to preserve the environmental and cultural heritage of rural Lebanon through the development of the sector via joint collaborations between public and private institutions as well as enhancing international relations with foreign entities in this respect. He commented, “Everything which has been promoted by this initiative aims to introduce tourists to the rural lifestyle, its traditions, values, cultural heritage as well as its rich spiritual simplicity.
Jreij also highlighted that contrary to past initiatives, this new rural strategy aims to include the rural population and cast them at the heart of this new initiative by enabling them to forge relationships not only with their land and fellow citizens, but also with the Lebanese abroad. In this respect he said, “The Ministry of Information and all its units are fully ready to market rural tourism.”
Jreij also thanked Pharaon for initiating this strategy despite the many hindrances and insecurities the country is facing and going through.
Commenting on the launch, Minister Hannawi said, “This occasion is a testimony to our unity and love of life as it confirms our will to live and prosper.” He added, “This initiative is an exceptional opportunity resonating from a national conviction to overcome all misfortunes.”
Hannawi also highlighted how through its various plans and initiatives entailing sports activities across the Lebanese territories, the Ministry of Youth and Sports is indirectly promoting tourism and endorsing cultural fusion on more than one level, especially among the youths.
On his part, the Minister of Culture, Raymond Araiji considered this occasion as the fruit of the collaborative work between the different ministries. He said, “This initiative aims to revive our heritage and celebrate our history. Launching this strategy is a national step forward towards re-embracing our cultural identity.”
Araiji also said that despite the fact that Lebanon is a country rich in history and culture, many historic sites and cultural landmarks and relics are still overlooked and uncared for, particularly in rural areas. He continued that these neglected landmarks need a well comprehensive plan to bring them back to the front and preserve them as part of Lebanon’s cultural and folkloric heritage. For this aim, he called upon all the ministries to work hand in hand towards achieving this goal.
After the official opening, three workshops were held under the supervision of the Director General at the Ministry of Tourism, Mrs. Nada Sardouk. The workshops entailed sessions about guesthouses and local products, natural reserves and archaeological sites, and projects’ development and marketing.
Among the session participants were committees specialized in rural tourism, representatives of the ministries of culture, environment and interior as well as other representatives from the natural reserve’s committee, touristic sites and the local products markets.