Lebanese discovering their ‘Inner-Tourist’

This photo provided by local explorer Louay Kabalan, shows the young outdoorsman hiking in the southern town of Niha, Lebanon. (Annahar Photo)BEIRUT: Amid a drought in foreign tourists, Lebanese travelers are picking up some of the slack and becoming the new tourist class of Lebanon.

Tourism oriented businesses and Lebanese weekenders spoke to Annahar about the renewed popularity of domestic tours and rediscovering the Levant, particularly when it came to getting out of the urban environment which defines so much of local life.

What have been called “inner-tourists” are visiting everything from outdoor venues, giant picnics and walking tours to such historical sites as the ancient Roman city of Baalbek or even a local bistro that benefited from a municipal “makeover.”

“3al Ba7er” a small bistro located on the rocky-shores of Anfeh, has been open for almost 12 years now. Yet the summer of 2016 has been its busiest summer thus far. “The restaurant recently shifted from being a local venue and transformed into a more national one, ever since the town’s municipality started painting the houses of Anfeh white and blue, giving it a Santorini like look,” Wassim Najem, owner of “3al Ba7er” told Annahar.

The great outdoors beckons at “Swings,” a picnic and camping site located in the town of Zaraaoun. “People have found a sense of importance in escaping their habits, especially since over-urbanization has attracted entrepreneurs to build camping and outdoor activity sites to provide such an escape for people,” Tony Hajj, owner of “Swings Lebanon” said.

Hajj later stressed that the previous Lebanese trend was clubbing, noting that the country’s nightlife scene is past its peak, and that younger locals are looking elsewhere for fun.

If a mix of culture and walking are of interest, then the following jaunt might be just the thing.

Alternative Tour Beirut a recently opened tourism venture is allowing the city’s inhabitants to rediscover their own cul-de-sac. Mostafa Fahs, the tour’s creator told Annahar that the focus of the four-hour walking tour is for people to discover the nation’s capital from an innovative perspective.

“The tour focuses on Beirut’s many aspects such as its music, art, architecture, communal work and culture, which in turn helps people get out of their routine regarded by many as the population’s main dilemma,” Fahs added.

For those of you who missed it, this summer Beirut played host to a record-breaking outdoor picnic attended by hundreds.

Virgin Radio and Mindwhisk, an events planning agency, co-produced the largest picnic in Lebanon which took place in Hippodrome Park Beirut on the Aug 21. Rola Mezher, owner of Mindwhisk events told Annahar, “the reason behind creating such a concept is that we noticed a shift whereby Lebanese people are choosing outdoor activities especially during summer. People got bored of partying, in these kinds of events they can ‘drink in the day’ and relax. ”

She believes the key behind pleasing Lebanese clientele is always creating innovative ideas.

Contributing to the success of this growing trend in domestic and outdoor tourism are all the travel information and tips available through social media platforms. Especially since local businesses have recently acquired the know-how to successfully market themselves through social media.

Louay Kabalan, a 22 year-old local explorer, believes that such top examples as the Instagram page “LiveLoveBeirut” which holds monthly competitions for best picture and video. Both these contest encourage people to post pictures of unfamiliar places in the country.

Then there are website such as “nogarlicnoonion.com”, “Beirut.com” and “stepfeed.com” that contain lists of where to go, what to do and where to eat.

“This trend toward outdoor activities has always been there, but has undergone a renaissance since Lebanese people are nature oriented having been hooked on nightlife for a few years,” Mounir Saridar, a 21 year local outdoorsmen said.

Saria Timany, senior sales executive at Nakhal tours said that the Lebanese clientele have a natural interest in rural tourism, and with interest currently being focused on local communities and environmental activities. And if domestic travelers need any added inducements, Timany noted that outdoor activities are generally less costly.

“Roughly 87 percent of the population in Lebanon lives in urban areas. The urban lifestyle and the daily stress generated by the city life have created the need for urban Lebanese and foreigners to escape the urban traffic, noise, pollution and stressful lifestyle of the capital and other major urban cities,” according to a report published by the Tourism Ministry called “Lebanon: Rural Tourism Strategy.”

The report added that Lebanese immigrants and expats living abroad have the desire to learn more about the history of their country, reconnect with their relatives and friends in home villages, bond with their roots and traditions while supporting the local economy.

Earlier in August, Culture Minister Raymond Areiji announced that people will be able to visit the vast  Baalbek archeological free of charge from Sept. 17 until Oct. 17 rather than paying the usual $10 entrance fee. “The purpose of this plan is to encourage people to visit the Baalbek ruins, since there is an increase in Lebanese expatriates who enjoy sightseeing in Lebanon,” Araiji told Annahar.

Founder of pop-up event planning firm Ollie Daze, Richard Touma said that the events designed by his firm are structured around letting participants feel a sense of freedom and egalitarianism with no VIP sections. “People need a reason to escape their troubles away from all the political and social conundrums cascading inside the country,” Touma said.

Ollie Daze has brought a number of innovative activities for people to enjoy such as Human Bowling. “The scheme behind this innovation is to reveal beautiful locations across Lebanon with a certain twist,” Touma said while highlighting the importance of having different locations each time in order to eliminate repetitiveness.

Sarah Itani, a 23-year-old Lebanese expat told Annahar, “Such experiences lead people to notice the importance of beauty as a concept, which has resulted in their realization of the beauty found in within their own country.”

She added, “I have never seen Lebanon this lively in ages; people are touching on their trouble-free side more often.”

Annahar writer Yehia El Amine contributed to this article.

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