|Horeca's crowded trade fair shows hope for tourism
|Brazilian soap company representatives mingled with Arab investors, a delegation of Italian food and furniture companies sought local Lebanese agents over maamoul pastries, and Italian traders hawked the latest espresso
Such was the scene at Lebanon's 12th annual Horeca hospitality and food trade show, which kicked off at the BIEL Center yesterday morning and is expected to draw almost 20,000 people and hundreds of companies to Beirut over the next few days.
But underneath the buzz of business, of course, was the fear that Lebanon's summer tourist season, which Horeca is expected to jumpstart, may be in for a rough ride.
President of the Lebanese Hotel Owners Syndicate Pierre Achkar said occupancy rates in Beirut are about 52 percent, as opposed to 75 percent this time last year.
Adding to the bad news, the Tourism Ministry released figures showing 301,446 tourists visited Lebanon in the first five months of 2005, down 19 percent compared to the same period in 2004.
Last summer, nearly half a million tourists visited Lebanon from the Gulf region, bringing a financial windfall to the hospitality and food industry.
According to Hospitality News, a trade magazine for the Levant, demand for travel and tourism services reached $4.1 billion in Lebanon in 2004, $1.2 billion of which was generated by foreign tourists. Of the $850 million invested by foreigners in Lebanon last year, 80 percent of it went to the hospitality industry, according to the magazine.
"That hundreds of people are coming from outside Lebanon to this fair is a good sign," said Achkar at a news conference launching the fair. "It means that this country is still essential to the tourism industry."
Ironically, after a two-month delay because of the political turmoil in Lebanon, Horeca's opening day coincided with the assassination of the anti-Syrian former head of the Lebanese Communist Party George Hawi.
"We have stability but some acts continue to stop our growth," Achkar said.
With 250 exhibitors this year, Horeca is the largest hospitality and food event in the Levant, and this year is drawing delegations from places such as Hong Kong, Germany, Poland, Cyprus, Turkey, and the U.A.E.
"We won't stop this event," said Randa Pharaon of Hospitality Services, which is running the festival. "We have delegations from all over the world and they're not afraid to come here."
Highlights this year include a Lebanese bartenders competition, a "techzone" sponsored by Microsoft featuring new software and plenty of traditional Lebanese ice cream.
"We came here to see the new cutting edge products for hotels and restaurants and new manufacturing equipment," said Bassam Kawash, vice president and CEO of the Jordanian Tourism Association Federation, who led a seven person delegation.
Many companies viewed a booth at Horeca - which costs $270 per square meters - as a profile-raiser in the hospitality industry.
"Italy is one of the leaders in the hotel and restaurant industry," said senior trade officer for the Italian Trade Commission Samir Salameh, who is searching for Lebanese agents for 28 Italian companies. "We are trying to consolidate ourselves in the market in Lebanon."
Show hours are: June 22: 11 a.m.-9 p.m., June 23 and 24: 4 p.m.-9 p.m. For more information call 961-1-995555.
The Daily Star