Civil war and the Decline of Tourism in Lebanon

By Pamkhuila Shaiza on June 20, 2016

Before the Civil War (1975-1990) Lebanon was a peaceful region that enjoyed calm and renowned prosperity in terms of economy and socio-political system. The economy in the pre-Lebanese civil war was driven by agriculture, banking, and most importantly tourism. Based on its stability and prosperity, its capital “Beirut” was the center of tourism in Asia and was regarded as the ‘Paris of the Middle East’ (Becker 2014). Pre-war Lebanon was considered as the most ideal tourist destination in the Middle East. The scenic beauty, sunny climate, and historical sites were the main points of attraction before the civil war for tourism in Lebanon.

As a small country bordering the Mediterranean Sea, Lebanon has no significant natural resources and depended heavily on tourism for her economy. With its contribution, the Lebanese economy was known for being one of the most dynamic in the Middle East region. Lebanon was known for not experiencing low inflation, high rates of economic growth, small fiscal deficits, fully convertible domestic currency, and a stable economy before the Civil War (Martelino et al. 1995; Johnson 2006). She was also playing an important role as the key economic intermediary between the developed European countries and the developing Middle Eastern countries. The combination of the entire stable macroeconomic environment made the country’s service sector to grow including the banking and finance sector, tourism sector, insurance sector, and other trade-related sectors.

Although researchers agree that there is no exact reason for the cause of the Lebanese Civil War, the country’s multi-diverse religions of Christianity (Greek Orthodox, Protestant, Armenian, and Maronite) constituting 40%, Islam constituting 40% and the rest of other religions constituting 20% has been regarded as responsible for offsetting the war. Despite freedom of worship, the country was not free of religious conflicts which the civil war demonstrated (Neto & Harb 2010).  On 13th April 1975, the assassination of Maronite leader and the ex-president of Lebanon, Pierre Gemayel, and his bodyguard Joseph Abu Assi (Neto & Harb 2010) ignited the civil war. This Lebanon’s civil war spanned for the 15 years, exacting a heavy toll on human lives and material aspects that caused fundamental changes in the economy (Martelino et al. 1995).

Factors influencing the decline of tourism in Lebanon

The Civil War destroyed Lebanon’s infrastructure and since Lebanon’s economy was so much connected to the tourism sector, it was immensely impacted. By the end of the civil war, only 180,00 tourists visited Lebanon as compared to 2.4 million visitors before the war.

Tourism in Lebanon before and after the civil war
No. of tourists visited Lebanon before and after the civil war.
(Source: Ministry of Tourism 2011b)

Political unrest and constant upsurge of violence hindered the regular growth and expansion of the tourism industry and tourists have stayed away from this country from constant fear (Neto & Harb 2010). With the onset of the war, it slowly lost its tourists guests to surrounding countries like Egypt, Jordan, and Cyprus. Aside from experiencing her civil war, tourism in Lebanon also fluctuated owing to many wars, strife, and issues in the neighboring countries. For instance, the industry came to a crashing halt in 2006 after the Israel-Hezbollah war broke out (Johnson 2006). The positive flow in the tourism sector has again been met with a blow after the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2012.

To promote tourism in Lebanon, the government launched various programs like ‘Launching 50 days’ campaign in Lebanon as a holiday destination. In 2013, the government even gave a 50% discount on airfares and hotels (Economist 2013). At the moment, it might take the end of the civil war in Syria for Lebanon to entice international tourists. Due to the Syrian War, tourism in Lebanon at present accounts for 7% to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (Turner 2015). The end of the War is expected to push tourism’s GDP contribution in the future.

Impact of the decline in tourism on the Lebanese economy

Since tourism contributes immensely to the country’s GDP sectors were also hit, making the local consumer confidence to hit low records (Economist 2013; Turner 2015). The impact of the Lebanon Civil War was reflected in the country’s government finance and the collapse of revenue and aftermath of the country’s authority trying to recover the war-induced deficits (Martelino et al. 1995). The fragmentation of the economy also caused mass immigration that resulted in the loss of professional and entrepreneurial skills. This was followed by the flight of capital and reduced flow of foreign capital resulting in increased fiscal deficits (Martelino et al. 1995). The loss of human capital coupled with economic and fiscal deficits stunted the country’s hospitality sector. In recent years, the number of guests has vehemently dwindled and many hotels have been forced to shut down (Economist 2013).

Lebanon can again be a popular tourist destination

The economic role played by tourism in Lebanon has always been considered as a critical role. The industry has been marred by civil wars, political unrest, and the rise of global terrorism. Keeping this in mind, the Lebanon government has been undertaking intensive marketing strategies, crisis management strategies and educational programs to boost its tourism industry. At the same time, the Lebanese government is repairing the damage caused by several unrest (Neto & Harb 2010). Interestingly, while tourism in Lebanon is trying to prosper from the unrest, in 2009, Lebanon was ranked as No. 1 travel destination across the world by the New York Times (Sherwood & Williams 2009). The year 2009 saw a high rise in tourism with as much as a 39% increase from the year 2008 (Becker 2014).

Despite political tensions, instability, and threat of terrorism, Lebanon in the Middle East continues to be a favorite destination among travelers. The reason for the continuing destination popularity of Lebanon is because the country represents all the aspects of ancient, modern, and cosmopolitan flavors (Hudman & Jackson 2003). Lebanon was featured in the writings of Homer and the Old Testament Bible and in the seaports during the Phoenician and Roman civilizations. Lebanon is also the land of Alexander the Great and a country with cosmopolitan flair at present (Ministry of Tourism 2011b). Historical and cultural attractions like the ancient cities of Jbeil (Byblos), Saida (Sidon), and Sour (Tyre) exhibits cultural richness, and tourists frequents such places (Ministry of Tourism 2011a). Many of the modern-day tourists visit Beirut for its superb nightlife, sandy beaches, food, and wine. In addition to man-made attributes, Lebanon also has a wide range of natural reserves. An opportunity for exploration and trekking in the Anti-Lebanon Range, Bekaa Valley, and the Mount Lebanon Range (Ministry of Tourism 2011a).

Since Lebanon comes out as being a major international tourist center in the Middle East, with all the positive attributes, if the political situation becomes stabilized, then the region can become an important tourist center again.

References

  • Becker, K., 2014. Islam and Business: Cross-Cultural and Cross-National Perspectives, London: Routledge.
  • Economist, 2013. Can they be lured back? The Economist.
  • Hudman, L.E. & Jackson, R.H., 2003. Geography of Travel & Tourism, London: Cengage Learning.
  • Johnson, A., 2006. Lebanon hopes for stability so tourism industry can rebound. Houston Chronicle.
  • Martelino, J. et al., 1995. Economic Dislocation and Recovery in Lebanon, Washongton D.C.: International Monetary Fund.
  • Ministry of Tourism, 2011a. Destination Lebanon – Home. destinationlebanon.gov.lb.
  • Ministry of Tourism, 2011b. Ministry of Tourism – About Lebanon. Lebanon ministry of tourism.
  • Neto, F.V. da S. & Harb, J., 2010. Impacts of Wars and Terrorism on Tourism in Lebanon. Modul Vienna University.
  • Sherwood, S. & Williams, G., 2009. The 44 Places to Go in 2009 – Interactive Graphic. The New York Times.
  • Turner, R., 2015. Travel & Tourism: Economic Impact 2015, Lebanon. World Travel & Tourism Council.
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