Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Summer 2023: Is Lebanon back to its old shenanigans?

Portemilio resort ad from my archive

At a time when the salary of most people working in the public sector is now at 100 USD, when most people are "making do" and barely making it till the end of the month, Lebanon goes back to its old shenanigans - which ones? Wherever I go on the net, titles such as "Is Beirut back as the shopping capital of the Middle East?", "fully booked long hot summer awaits", and the list goes on.

Here's the deal: for a very very long time, the banking sector which has now totally collapsed taking with it people's money, along with the construction industry which has almost vanished at this point (every person no matter their background called himself - interestingly herself was almost non-inexistent - a "promotor"), and tourism were the backbone of what was holding the economy together.

And now, it seems that tourism is the only one left standing. 2010 was a booming summer in terms of tourism in Lebanon, people were flush wish cash, expats were returning in droves, Beirut was making it to the top of must-visit cities in the world and the list goes on. 2019 along with the crash it precipitated, followed by hard-hitting Covid in 2020-21 (and the 2020 explosion in Beirut), ushered the closure of around half a thousand HORECA (Hotels, restaurants and Cafes) establishments. 

This without counting the usual shopping places - I already spoke of Kaslik (here) and last time I went to the originally very vibrant Beirut Souks mall, only 7 stores in all the mall were open. The Librairie Antoine for example which occupied 3 floors closed down its branch there. Aishti - the nation's most luxurious shopping destination (with its flagship store in downtown Beirut one street away from Beirut Mall) - had to bankroll its own fixing after the 2020 explosion since (according to its CEO Toni Salame) banks were in not the mood to lend money to anyone. Do note, I am neither defending Beirut Mall or Aishti or slandering them - it is just that at some point, the area below the ring bridge became.... a ghost town for a long time.

And now what? Now we are back to promising people things. Now we are back to bathing them in dreams. Just to give a small example: suppose this is indeed a great summer for tourism, how will Mr. and Mrs. Average Lebanese profit from it? I know your thinking - "oh they will be hired in hotels or restaurants for the summer". Well, what's with the level of poverty, the presence of Syrian workers, the fierce competition for any salary, the ones who will accept the worst conditions will be recruited.

As it is, electricity bills have gone 10 fold to eye-wateringly obnoxious figures, it seems the internet will follow suit soon, and the list continues. All this without factoring the new "customs Dollar" which will push any imported product by about 10-15% in price. 

As a side note, the new price list to go to beach resorts has been published for the summer of 2023 - in Dollars mind you - and there you go, the prices do make you wonder how can anyone afford spending a day there. How people hope and cope is beyond me. There is zero logic to all this "positive vibes" being spread, unless of course it is "fake it till you make it". 

I was never part of the "fake it" crowd. And I am not joining for the summer 2023 season.