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French Version

Beirut celebrates the business of New Year's Eve (Daily Star)

Racy events drew up to $1,000 per person
Some offered lush dinners and Arabic pop stars; others real, or imagined, ambiance

The allure of live oriental music and scantily clad women brought the Arab World to Beirut last Friday night.

But as revelers awoke to 2005 with head aches and thinner wallets, the new year generated millions of dollars for pop artists, event organizers and a range of local businesses, still celebrating nationwide.

Whether they charged $50 or $1,000 per person, showcased provincial talent or the voluptuous, much sought-after Haifa Wehbe - who made at least four singing public performances that night - Lebanese entrepreneurs say they drew crowds from London to Hong Kong, and the money to match.

"New Year's Eve has a major impact on revenues," said Raymond Abboud, operations manger at the Regency Palace Hotel, in Adma.

"Normally, a night like this can bring in $300,000 to $350,000 to the hotel."

The 80-room hill side resort saw occupancy rates soar from 60 to 100 percent, according to Abboud, who claimed 1,700 people attended various events featuring Wehbe, George Wassouf, The Four Cats, and other renown regional artists.

In nearby Dbbayeh, the Le Royal Hotel claimed almost 1,900 guests, featuring Lebanese sensations Nancy Ajram and Fadel Shaker at up to $450 per ticket. But top acts don't come cheap.

A fleeting Wehbe appearance is valued at some $25,000, while an all-night exclusive deal with Wassouf set the Regency Palace back $75,000, Abboud said. But there are other, less traditional, ways of reaping the business of New Year's Eve.

Younger capitalists took to the mystique of marketing themed events, targeting the younger generation with lavish gatherings that identified with Western musical trends such as Hip Hop and Techno-trance over classical Arabic melodies.

For "Two Benjamin's," (Ebonics for $200) the sparking invitation to this year's "Bling Bling" party encouraged attendees to adorn designer brands such as Gucci, Prada and Versace and "rub shoulders with the creme de la creme," amid the latest tracks in house and R&B.

"About 70 percent of attendees came from outside Leb-anon," said Aya Ajam, 25, who helped organize Bling Bling, which featured local artists and a male stripper.

"People came from Sweden, Tokyo, Bahrain ... This was their first time in Lebanon. They came just for the party," she beamed, claiming almost 1,200 guests.

And despite five days of set construction, where the cavernous Forum de Beyrouth convention center was transformed into a posh club with a rotating stage, attracting customers was "easy peasy," according to Ajam. "There was no advertising; people came through word of mouth."

With little to no spending on promotions or big name music acts, trendy themed events likely earned higher profit margins than the classical hotel or restaurant soiree. Many local establishments served-up generous full course meals and live performances for $50 to $100; other events, however, fetched far more for the lure of real, or imagined, ambiance. With an "invitation only" scheme, the much hyped "Moulin Rouge," bash at the historic Lady Sursouk mansion garnered momentum early on, earning coverage in this publication for the second year running. At $150 per head, the event promised full-scale Parisian style dancing and high class partying, but featured little more than unlimited booze, clever lighting, a lone local DJ and choice appetizers. Still, 620 guests piled into the early 19th century home, with many dressed a la bourgeois in top hats and corsets.

Paddy Cochrane, a younger descendent of Sursouk, said the aim was to provide an alternative to the routine of "very expensive, over-rated and ultimately disappointing" Beirut New Year's Eve parties. Lady Sursouk's villa once welcomed royalty, he explained, adding that $5,000 from proceeds would be donated to charity.

"It's kind of a tribute to her in a weird way," he said. "It's a rewarding business, but I didn't sleep for a month," he added, claiming the event took four arduous months of preparation.

Beirut 10-01-2005
Habib Battah
The Daily Star

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