Complex Made Simple

Advertising Lebanon as a tourism destination is a huge mistake

Earlier this month, the Ministry of Economy finally released an economic report it commissioned in 2017.

The study, conducted by global consulting firm McKinsey, has painted a very troubling picture of Lebanon. The $1.3 million, 1,200-page report put several sectors under the microscope.

One of the biggest losers in Lebanon’s decline has been its once-flourishing tourism sector, for which the country was known as the Switzerland of the East.

Today, the essence of Lebanon’s allure remains, but its tourism sector has taken too much of a beating.

Advertising Lebanon as a one size fits all won’t serve the country’s tourism objectives.

Here’s why.

So what does the report tell us? 

The report notes several glaring problems in the country’s tourism offering:

 Unclear branding of Lebanon and tarnished image in the media: Given the politically unstable image Lebanon is depicted within local and international news, the country doesn’t come off as safe and welcoming to tourists, even if the truth is far from this.

Unfocused efforts in targeting source markets: The Ministry of Tourism’s (MoT) scattershot efforts at marketing need to be more focused to be able to successfully capture different nationalities of tourists.

 Lack of prioritization of product offering and limited range of “ready-to-market products”: The MoT needs to offer more accessible and effective tourism products to travelers.

 Lack of specialization of hospitals in specific/medical services to attract medical tourists: Hospitals need to reconsider aspects of their business model to be able to incorporate medical tourists into their daily offerings.

As for key challenges, it highlighted the following:

Lack of proper tourism data to ensure informed decision making

 Low occupancy rates in hotels are deterring private sector investments

 Limited hospitality infrastructure catering for the upper mass and luxury segments (especially outside Beirut)

 Absence of a brand image for Lebanon

 Limited flight connectivity and high airfare prices to European markets

 Highly fragmented eco-system with no forum for collaboration between all the different stakeholders

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Where do the tourists come from? 

According to the Ministry of Tourism’s figures, Iraqis represent the highest percentage of tourists entering the country, followed by France, the US, and Canada.

(Excerpt from Mckinsey report)

McKinsey reminds that each source market has its own interests and reasons for travel, and the Ministry of Tourism needs to capitalize on this in their marketing material and product offerings.

(Excerpt from Mckinsey report)

Naturally, expats (mostly those in the West) travel home to be with family and friends, or for cultural tourism, such as spending time in the mountains or going on a religious pilgrimage/tour.

European tourists, on the other hand, focus on the outdoors and on exploring the culture.

As for GCC visitors, who are known to be heavy spenders, they place a lot of importance on travelling for shopping. Family trips are also important, when the GCC family goes off on vacation during holidays. To escape the heat of the Gulf desert, these tourists also value outdoor sightseeing in Lebanon’s fair weather.

READ: Lebanon’s struggling economy: High time something is done

So what should be done?

A Beirut street

According to McKinsey, the MoT needs to develop tailored marketing campaigns, packages and offerings for each source market.

(Excerpt from Mckinsey report)

The tourism marketing budget should be increased by 5-10 times between 2019-2025 to position Lebanon as a tourism destination, the report explained.

Furthermore, the consultancy said Lebanon should develop three core offerings in city & entertainment, sun & beach and culture, while also taking a bet on eco-tourism.

To support these pillars of the industry, Lebanon needs to focus its efforts on developing and marketing 3 distinct cities: Beirut, Byblos and Sour.

“These three destinations would become priority tourism investment zones with dedicated incentives packages for private investors, public infrastructure investments, product development and marketing,” McKinsey said.


Each city would offer something unique:

Beirut would offer an urban experience (e.g. shopping, vibrant city nightlife, F&B) and a cultural experience (e.g. heritage sites, museums, exhibitions, religious monuments).

Byblos would offer culture, sun & beach and gaming activities.

Sour would offer culture, religion and sun & beach activities.

Other tourists destinations should be developed to a satisfactory level. Cities such as Jeita, Baalbeck, Batroun, Saida etc. should be easily accessible through day trips from the three anchor destinations. These areas should build on Lebanon’s natural endowment in culture (e.g. Baalbeck), adventure/nature (Jeita, Tannourine), sun & beach (Batroun, Damour/Jiyeh) and religious tourism.

The report also highlighted the importance of medical and business tourism and the degree to which they are currently underdeveloped.

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Finally, how can the MoT itself improve?

As for the Ministry of Tourism, McKinsey highlighted four key responsibilities:

Data: Data and research arm of the Ministry to expand knowledge base through airport departure surveys, brand trackers, etc.(e.g., diaspora vs international, business vs leisure, experience feedback from visitors, direct data integration with hotels).

Marketing: The marketing arm of the Ministry should aggressively market anchor destinations and develop their brand image, focus budgets on target source markets, and leverage subsidies to festivals to enhance offerings.

Development: Development arm of the ministry to drive and gear investments in the sector towards anchor destination.

Coordination: Tourism board to drive the coordination between different stakeholders across the tourism ecosystem and implement the strategy. Committees to drive the coordination of efforts in the anchor destination across the private and public sector

Addressing the issues of Lebanon’s tourism sector will require a lot of manpower, capital and time. Most importantly, it will require dedication from the assigned officials before all.

(You can find the full report here)

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