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Rédigé par Geneviève BIEGANOWSKI translated by Joséphine Foucher le Jeudi 4 Décembre 2014
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Michel Pharaon: “I’m pursuing an ecotourism strategy for Lebanon”

Interview with Lebanese Tourism Minister

Visiting Paris to celebrate the 50 years of existence of Lebanon’s Tourism Office in Paris, Michel Pharaon who has been heading the Ministry since like February tells his hope and determination to maintain and develop the touristic footprint of his country, resilient as it is, on the world’s map.

“My goal was to attempt to touch a young clientele abroad. And to do so, find professionals who can provide trips of a few weeks for less than 1,000 dollars.”/photo dr
“My goal was to attempt to touch a young clientele abroad. And to do so, find professionals who can provide trips of a few weeks for less than 1,000 dollars.”/photo dr - Does it still make sense to promote tourism in Lebanon when the country is surrounded by conflictual regions, and that the recommendations given by Ministry of Foreign Affairs to travelers are rather alarming?

Michel Pharaon: “We have to put everything into perspective. The recent evolution of tourism in Lebanon has been a real roller-coaster ride.

We had some great years up to 2009, followed by three difficult years due to the context of political turbulences within the country that took place after violations of the Doha agreement.

This led to a drop in tourist visits by 40%! However, with the current government prioritizing security before anything, we’ve noticed an increase of visits by 25% during summer 2014, between June and September.

This proves that it is not the exterior geopolitical climate that scares visitors but rather tensions inside the country.

If the situation inside the country is appeased then the Lebanese of the diaspora come back which helps us to gage the rate of visits and they then pave the way for other international visitors.” - You became Minister last February. What will your strategy be?

Michel Pharaon: “I was confronted with a very weakened sector and it was crucial to give it a second wind.

My goal was first to attempt to touch a young clientele abroad. And to do so, find professionals who can provide trips of a few weeks for less than 1,000 dollars.

Simultaneously, I also put in a place a five year plan based on developing ecotourism. We have sociological and cultural treasures in all of our regions. Even the smallest village has a strong cultural heritage.

But everything still needs to be done. It is necessary that in each region, the municipalities unite to organize to create visitor infrastructures and professionalize this large potential.

It will take two years of intensive work to get there.” - What future to do you envision for the tourism office that is celebrating its 50 years in Paris?

Michel Pharaon: “It is an important office to us, a testament to the historical relations that France and Lebanon maintain. During the 1975 conflict, we closed many of our representative offices, especially in Europe.

That is why it seems mandatory for the Paris office to also insure the promotion of tourism in other European countries.” - You seem determined, despite the fragile geopolitical climate…

Michel Pharaon: “Let’s say that I’m rather moderately optimistic on the evolution of the current situation.

Lebanon is the only country in the region with a democracy, even if it’s not perfect. Minorities are respected and the power is shared between communities.

Lebanon is even, in this respect, an example to follow for neighboring countries. And if, God forbid, Lebanon should become a zone of conflict, if it were to fall in the spiral of violence, then we’ll probably see this violence spread throughout Europe.”

Geneviève BIEGANOWSKI translated by Joséphine Foucher

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