BEIRUT: Lebanon launched Wednesday a wide media campaign through leading international TV stations to promote the country as a tourist destination and to downplay reports about the fighting in some regions.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati presided over a broad meeting at the Grand Serail which was attended by Tourism Minister Fadi Abboud and private sector representatives, including several from hotels and restaurants.
The meeting was initiated by Mikati and Abboud following repeated appeals from the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar to their citizens not to visit Lebanon due to the high tension in many regions.
Lebanon usually pins high hopes on a promising tourism season each summer as thousands of Gulf Arabs spend the entire season in the mountains.
The mountain towns of Aley and Bhamdoun, which teem with Kuwaiti and Saudi nationals during the summer, are nearly deserted.
The number of tourists visiting Lebanon declined by 24 percent in 2011 and the picture is unlikely to change this year as tension still runs high in some regions.
Most hotels in Beirut and the mountains have seen massive cancellations of room reservations over the past few weeks with some hotels even warning that they may be compelled to lay off many of their staff if the situation does not change.
Abboud told reporters that the Euro Sports channel would air 700 TV commercials for three months to promote Lebanon as a tourist destination.
The minister added that CNN would also air a report in August titled “An Eye on Lebanon.”
“We also have between 600 to 700 commercials on Lebanon. Our goal is to change a particular image about Lebanon, but this task is not easy,” Abboud argued.
The minister also revealed that the owner of the chain of Aishti stores Tony Salameh has conveyed a proposal to set up a website called “What’s in Lebanon.”
The site will offer gifts from Middle East Airlines and it will be promoted in several Arab Gulf states.
Lebanese television stations will also interview a number of key business figures to talk about tourism and investments in Lebanon on a daily basis.
Mikati underlined the importance of this massive media campaign and said he had received many calls from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to urge the government to spread this media blitz to the rest of the Arab countries.
“We all need to do this workshop, because this country concerns us all. This issue [tourism] involves not only the government but also the entire country,” the prime minister stressed.
He added that Lebanon would host a number of festivals and international music concerts in various historical locations this summer.
Apart from Arab and foreign tourists, Lebanon relies heavily on Lebanese expatriates in Arab Gulf states, Africa and the United States.
Officials say the number of Lebanese expatriates is not expected to fall this summer because most of these families prefer to spend the holiday with their parents and friends.
But even if Lebanese expatriates come to the country in large numbers, hotels and restaurants will still suffer a serious blow if Arab Gulf nationals avoid Lebanon.