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French Version

Horeca strives to keep hospitality sector afloat

To get an idea of how important the hospitality sector is to the Lebanese economy one need look no further than BIEL this week, where the four-day, 14th annual Horeca festival kicked off on Tuesday.

The event, which brings together participants as diverse as Bekaa cheese makers and olive-oil producers to luxury hotels and premier chefs, was not derailed by falling tourism revenues in the wake of last summer's war, though international participation may have dipped.

"By bringing together all key players in the hospitality and food-service industry, Horeca creates revenues and job opportunities in tourism, one of the main sectors of the Lebanese economy," said the director general of the Tourism Ministry, Nada Sardouk. "That's why the forum always must take place regardless of political unrest," she told reporters at BIEL.

Indeed Tourism Minister Joe Sarkis has said that the sector has the potential to be "Lebanon's oil," were it not for reccurring crises.

Tourism revenues accounted for 9 percent of GDP in 2005, and were on their way to reach 12 percent in 2006, according to ministry figures. The hospitality sector was expected to generate 175,000 jobs - more than 10 percent of total employment - in 2006 alone, based on pre-war projections published by the World Travel & Tourism Council.

Despite the 6.7 percent drop in the number of visitors to the country in the second half of 2006, by all appearances this year's Horeca festival far surpassed its predecessor.

Nestle, for example, had a regular stand last year, equipped with a few water coolers and a representative handing out business cards. This time, the multinational company, which owns Sohat, erected a gleaming white "Water Bar," offering various imported brands of sparkling water to thirsty passers-by.

The nearby "Cheese Festival," sponsored by ASAIL (Action for Sustainable Agro-Industry in Lebanon), features dozens of tables piled high with local dairy products.

Ziad Jaber, a veteran cheese maker and research assistant at AUB's school of agriculture in the Bekaa, is attending Horeca with an eye to the local market.

"First we want to raise awareness about the school of agriculture," he said.

"Also we want to let producers know they can make exotic cheeses, and we don't have to import them," Jaber said, handing The Daily Star a sample of a delicious locally made brie.

Most "Cheese Festival" participants passed through the Agricultural Research and Education Center's intensive two-day training course, Jaber relayed with pride, adding that students are required to stay awake 24 hours a day to monitor the fermentation process.

The amount of foreign attendees may be down this year, admitted the president of the Lebanese Industrialists Association, but Horeca remains an integral part of the agro-industry agenda.

"Even if no one comes from outside the country, this exhibition still benefits Lebanese food manufacturers, and they have made a gigantic effort to keep Horeca alive," Fadi Abboud told The Daily Star.

Euro-Lebanese Center for Industrial Modernization director Raja Habre called Horeca a seminal event on the Lebanese economic calendar, especially for the business community and those "integrated sectors" of the hospitality market.

Horeca is also just plain fun. A host of contests will take place over the course of the exhibition, including an olive-oil taste test, a formal table-setting competition, and a Lebanese cuisine cook-off.

Beirut 28-03-2007
The Daily Star

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