TBY talks to Jan Bundgaard, General Manager of Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts Beirut, on the makeup of the hotel's visitor profile, the growth of MICE tourism, and the effects of regional conflict on the hospitality sector.

Jan Bundgaard
Jan Bundgaard has been General Manager at Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts Beirut since January 2012. Before his current position, he was General Manager at the Grand Mauritian Resort & Spa of The Luxury Collection for over a year and a half.

Mövenpick Hotel & Resorts Beirut has been ranked the best resort in Lebanon. What has contributed to this success?

Obviously, the human factor. The team itself has been very much focused on making this the resort to visit in Lebanon, especially in Beirut. It is not only the team; the location itself is also quite convenient. The fact is that the facilities and the activities that we provide are something that you can't really find anywhere else in Lebanon. We have three different swimming pools, which is unique here. The Olympic-sized pool is one example, and we also offer water sport activities. I don't think you can find those in any other resort. We have powerboats, jet skis, parasailing, and the largest diving center in Lebanon. You can rent any type or size of yacht and go directly from your room to the yacht and go wherever you want. That is basically everything you need without having to take a car to go anywhere. It is all private, so you have to be a hotel guest or the owner of a cabana.

What is the percentage of international visitors?

In the sense of people who live outside Lebanon, it is close to 100%. Many of the people who come here are the Lebanese who live abroad. We know that about 20 million Lebanese live abroad, versus the 4 million here. This is the diaspora. The Middle East loves this country. It is the Europe of the Middle East. It is very close by and we speak the same language. People from the region feel more comfortable here and they feel more at home than they do in Europe.

What are the advantages of Lebanon as a tourist destination?

It is a small place that has basically nearly everything. In terms of culture and history, it is very deep. It is the heart of civilization. It has gone through many eras. It has a very strong history and everything you want to visit at a maximum of two hours away. One of the great advantages here is the weather. We have over 300 days of clear blue skies. Even if you go to the Caribbean, Indonesia, or Malaysia, you won't experience so many blue skies. In Singapore, it rains every day. You can even go outside in the summer, whereas in most Middle Eastern countries you cannot, due to the heat. Furthermore, there are winter facilities in the mountains where you can engage in winter sports.

What are you doing to push MICE tourism?

Russia has direct flights, and visa restrictions are not an issue for its citizens coming here. Beirut is only three-and-a-half hours from Moscow, and there is a lot of MICE activity going on. We also need to consider how much we should invest in pushing the MICE business in countries that we know would not choose our destination out of safety concerns. We know that safety comes before anything else. Now, that said, we have a couple of leads and we have had some visits from Russia because this is a fantastic MICE destination. It is easy to get to different destinations from Lebanon.

What is your outlook for the Lebanese tourism sector in the medium term?

For 2014, I would like to be optimistic, but it is difficult to predict. I think if we look at how things are developing in the region, especially with our neighbor Syria, we are totally dependent on what is happening externally. Things have not been going in the right direction recently. We do not believe it is going to get any worse, but we are not unrealistic and dreaming that business is going to go through the roof. The political situation seems to have changed, and it seems to have had a positive impact on traveling in the GCC. We suddenly see a surge of reservations for individual leisure travelers from the GCC. Lebanese tourism is a roller coaster; it goes up and down, and is extremely reliant on day-to-day politics. It all depends on the kind of support that you get from the Gulf because it is very complex.