Lebanon: small country, big heart

Source: CMW

Stephanie Ackland attends the first ‘Visit Lebanon’ showcase to experience why the country is making its mark as an up-and-coming MICE destination.

Lebanon has always been a country that intrigues; rich in culture, beautiful scenery, world-class food and a first-class welcome, and the 2017 Visit Lebanon MICE showcase didn’t disappoint. Hosted by the ministry of tourism in collaboration with key industry partners, and attended by 150 international agents, the showcase aimed to present the country as a serious, alternative MICE destination.

Delegates were hosted at Le Royal Beirut, 15 minutes from the centre of the capital and took part in a packed programme of meetings, site inspections and dinners. Many of the delegates were first-time visitors, so the meetings were a good opportunity to learn first-hand from Lebanon’s supplier community.

Beirut is made up of several distinct quarters. The newly constructed downtown is the heart of the city with shops, galleries, historical sites, restaurants and the trendy souks; Hamra Street is home to the city’s vibrant nightlife; the leafy suburb, Badaro, houses The National Museum, restaurants and foreign embassies; and Beirut Central District is the main business area near the palm-lined Corniche.

Beirut has an extensive hotel offering and for large conferences the Movenpick and Le Royal are a good choice. For a contemporary feel, Smallville, the only design-hotel in Lebanon, has a roof-top meeting room, a favourite with the creative industries. Other five-star options include Le Sofitel Beirut, Four Seasons at Zitouna Bay, Radisson Blu Martinez and Le Gray. For the iconic experience, Le Commodore has been the hotel of choice for journalists for 40 years, while Le Bristol is where Lebanese politicians have gathered since 1951.

Beirut is well-known for its night-life and the Music Hall is an enjoyable evening, a vibrant journey around the world in music. From Italian classics to Brazilian Samba, it is a good choice for international groups who can sing-along in their own language – our group didn’t want to leave.

The Phoenicia Intercontinental, with its neo-classical design and atmospheric terrace is ideal for outdoor events, and for a more formal gathering, the Villa Linda Sursock offers a majestic backdrop.

Small but perfectly formed jewel for incentives

Lebanon is a small country, 177km in length and 16km wide, ideal for those looking for variety in a compact form.

Mount Lebanon is home to the Jeita Grotto, nominated as one of the seven wonders of nature. Only reachable by boat, the 9km of interconnected caves sit on an underground river.

The nearby City of Byblos is the oldest continuous inhabited city in the world, now an upscale tourist hub famous for its ancient port, ruins, sandy beaches and picturesque mountains. Delegates can follow in the footsteps of Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra and take a scenic lunch cruise from Beirut City to the enchanting Byblos harbour. Edde Sands in Byblos is a large venue for events.

A little further north brings us to the Kadisha Valley and the Forest of the Cedars of God. The Cedar is a national symbol and dates back 3,000 years. The area is tailor-made for hiking and more energetic teambuilding activities.

A more leisurely activity is wine-tasting in the Bekaa Valley and a visit to Chateau Ksara offers the opportunity to see the tradition first hand, while a brief detour through Baalbek will bring you to Roman Temple ruins.

Mario Anthony, MD of Dubai-based Agency Luxury Connections, was impressed by the consistently high level of hospitality and service in Lebanon. “Every venue we visited provided excellent entertainment and food. The quality of business facilities matches those of other leading global destinations. The all-year round weather is perfect for all the incentive activities on offer, and everything is so accessible.”

Lebanon has had its share of political instability but security is a matter that is taken very seriously. Visa control at the airport is thorough, and there is a discrete, yet reassuring official presence in public places.

Anthony described a city that was “busy, lively and modern with people going about everyday life. The delegation felt very safe there, and I wouldn’t hesitate to relay this to my clients.”

Lebanon has a long-standing tradition of artisanal handicrafts, many of which are still practised by local co-operatives, which can be visited by groups as an eco-incentive.

Small really is beautiful, few countries can offer a swim in the sea and a ski on the slopes on the same day. The Mzaar Mountain resort is only one hour away from Beirut. Delegates can experience Igloo building, and Skidooing in the morning and Mediterranean Sailing in the afternoon.

Eat like a King

Lebanese food deserves special mention, as eating is a national pastime.

The traditional Meze platter can often include over 20 separate dishes. Starters are followed by copious amounts of delicious meat and fish and rounded off with sumptuous desserts. Even breakout sessions are a meal in themselves.

There is also an element of glamour about Lebanon, and this is reflected in its events scene. The destination is well known for its grandiose celebrations, and a popular choice for large weddings. Plenty of local suppliers are on hand to organise and deliver.

For a venue to impress, the Casino de Liban is a good choice. A 40-minute drive from Beirut city, in Jounieh, guests can take drinks in the stylish lounge, followed by a gala-dinner and dancing on the terrace, with its wonderful view of the bay. Firework displays can be organised in the nearby hills.

Jean-Marc Panossian, GM at Le Commodore Hotel says Lebanon continues to gain share in the MICE sector, with strong sectors for meetings proving to be medical, pharmaceutical, cosmetics and NGOs.