Lebanon’s winter tourism sector took a chunk of the country’s total 2.35 million international visitors in 2010, and expanding facilities are aimed at attracting tourists from an increasing variety of countries.
As the only Middle Eastern country with a significant winter tourism industry, Lebanon has also worked to leverage its climate to its advantage. Temperatures ensure snow fit for skiing is present from December through April. “At the end of the skiing season when the temperatures are getting higher, you can ski in the morning, then drive down to Beirut and sunbathe on the beach in the afternoon. It is a very unique location to be able to ski and sunbathe on the same day,” Andrea Wrba, General Manager of InterContinental Mzaar Ski Resort, told TBY.
Lebanon offers a host of winter activities, including hiking, snowmobiling, alpine skiing, cross country, and paragliding. The country’s six ski resorts are well equipped, and well within driving-distance of Lebanon’s major hubs. The Cedars is the highest resort, at an altitude of 1,850-3,087 meters. It is also the furthest from Beirut, at 120 kilometers. The closest resort to Beirut is Zaarour, at only 40 kilometers. It is also the lowest, at 1,700-2,000 meters. Laqlouq, Faqra, Faraya-Mzaar, and Qanat Bakiche make up the sextuplet, and are between 45 and 60 kilometers from Beirut and lie at 1,750-2,500 meters in altitude.
Worries of rising temperatures are also not slowing down growth, with many seeing receding snow as a chance to develop other sporting activities. The Faqra resort has opened a grass slope, while others, such as the InterContinental Mzaar Ski Resort has developed a bowling and entertainment area, cinema, and also provides opportunities for snowmobiling, tennis, rappelling, paragliding, rafting, and sightseeing. The sector is also seeing some overlap with the MICE tourism sector, to keep the money rolling in during the off season. “We are trying to promote summer activities as well as our business and meeting facilities,” explained Wrba.
The sector, much like the traditional tourism sector, attracts much revenue from Lebanon’s diaspora, but the slopes are also popular with tourists from the GCC, Europe, and the US. “The biggest part of our clientele is Lebanese, and some people from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the Gulf area,” Wrba noted, outlining her desire to see an increase in skiers from Europe and the US, while adding “Lebanon is quiet and pretty stable at the moment, so there is no reason not to travel to a destination that is a little different and a bit out of the ordinary.” It is this notion, along with generally cheaper prices than skiing destinations in Europe, that could propel Lebanon’s skiing industry into the future. Currently, an adult ticket to the full set of Mzaar slopes will set you back a meager $33 on weekdays and $60 on weekends, while a season pass to all slopes is only $750 for adults. Combine that with the chance to attend the annual “Ski & Fashion Festival,” and the package on offer should be tempting to even the most discerning winter sports enthusiast.
© The Business Year