“We do what we must to keep people in their villages”, said Ramzi Jreij, Minister of Information.
They all shared a common vision: rural areas and regions, beyond Beirut and major urban areas, becoming successful, sustainable destinations for travel. These are the places where tourists can enjoy cultural, religious, historical, culinary, nature, sports, agricultural and adventure tourism.
The purpose of the conference was to present the Rural Tourism Strategy, aiming at promoting rural tourism for the concerned regions and local communities to increase their income by receiving more visitors and by offering competitive tourism products, services and experiences to tourists while preserving their natural environment and cultural heritage.
“God gave Lebanon the gift of a beautiful environment; it’s a sin not to make use of it,” stated Tamam Salam, Prime Minister.
“This strategy helps preserve our rural culture and gives people in the villages more reason to preserve this culture,’ added Raymond Oreiji, the Minister of Culture.
A committee for the rural strategy was formed prior to this conference and Serine Ammar, from the Ministry of Tourism, presented some prerequisites for guest house licenses, with new rules and regulations taking place, stressing on hospitality and guest experience. The importance of branding and marketing were highlighted as tools to attract tourists to these remote rural sites.
Among other directions of the strategy are the protection of environmental, cultural, historical and agricultural heritage, the development of policies and legislations of the sector, enhancement of data collection and management, and the promotion of the rural tourism among the younger generations. The strategy also proposes a Common Action Mechanism to implement the strategy in a sustainable way, advocating rural tourism through common action, and ensuring proper coordination among stakeholders.
“This initiative is important because without it there cannot be any balanced and sustainable development,” claimed Michel Pharaon, Minister of Tourism.
Following the speeches of the attending ministers and ministry officials, a series of workshops were held to give the chance to members of NGOs, and other stakeholders in rural tourism, to share their experiences and success stories.
Elyssa Skaff, representing L’HOTE LIBANAIS, shared the 10 years of experience in this very field, promoting guest houses and cultural, as well as environmental tourism in rural as well as urban areas. “It is a story of love,” she started. “When we began, the majority of people visiting were foreigners, now there are many Lebanese.” She stressed that L’HOTE LIBANAIS cherishes quality as priority instead of quantity and that the network has today 12 guest houses spread all across Lebanon. She concluded by saying that L’HOTE LIBANAIS thrives to become a green business; from the website to the local products offered for breakfast.
Maysoun Kurban from the Dhiafee Program presented their project of developing modern quality standards for guest houses based on those of countries prominent in the field. Dhiafee, also according to Kurban, is developing a quality guide for the guest houses to follow.
Among the speakers were Zeinab Jeambey, from Darb el Karam, who talked about the Food Heritage Foundation, an NGO promoting food tourism, and Kamal Mouzawak from Souk El Tayeb, who described food as being the only rural heritage that stands the test of time.
“Environment and tourism go hand in hand. We have around 14 reserves, covering 2.5% of Lebanon’s area, and hopefully soon they’ll become 30,” said Mohamad Machnouk, Minister of Environment.
The next step will be the creation of a Rural Tourism Movement in Lebanon (RTM), bringing together all stakeholders to advocate for public policies and improved legislation in the sector of rural tourism, and promoting the sector to become competitive and sustainable.