Forest lodges attract investors and NGOs. Over 15 sites and 115,000 m2 of forest - Lebanon

Forest lodges attract
investors and NGOs
Over 15 sites and 115,000 m2 of forest
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Les Cabanes de Maasser El Chouf opened two weeks ago. It is developed on a 3,000 square meter piece of land, close to the Shouf Nature Reserve. It has nine bungalows and can host up to 27 guests.

Salim Nasser, Manager of the concept, said that there is an increasing demand for this type of lodging. “Wood lodging is getting trendier.” Les Cabanes was co-funded by the European Union and the Municipality of Masser el Chouf. It is managed by Arcenciel, a local NGO. It is part of The Auberge Maasser el Chouf project, which includes Auberge St-Michael and Beit el Hana.

There are over 15 forest lodges in the country. They occupy over 115,000 m2 of forests and can accommodate over 600 people per night.

These lodges are located in mountain areas from Barouk to Mayrouba, Ehden, Kobayat, and El Kaa. Most of them have opened in the last two to three years, except for La Résèrve de Horch Ehden, operating since 2003.

Nessrine Nassereddine Halaby, co-owner of Sohat Village, a bungalows complex in the Falougha area, said there is more awareness about eco-tourism. “People are eager to get back to the roots and live in harmony with nature,” she said. TWA Rouge for example, a lodging facility in Chouwen Naher Ibrahim area, does not allow mobile phones. It has no TVs, nor a Wi-Fi connection. Charbel Hayek, founder, said that it is a way to drive people to relax, retreat, and live in full harmony with nature. Halaby said that the country’s nature is a unique asset that diversifies it from its region. “People now are more conscious about this fact, this is why forest lodges are multiplying,” she said.

People frequenting these places are mostly locals, from different age groups. This highlights a changing tourism mentality and a more mature assessment of hospitality. Many Lebanese are not familiar with remote areas. “Eco-tourism projects are an opportunity to explore the country’s diversity and admire its sceneries,” according to Jabalna Ecolodge’s owner Georges Karam. His eight bungalows located in Kobayat, are open during summer and winter.

Halaby said that frequent Lebanese visitors motivated them to open their premises in all seasons. Accommodations are offered at an average of $100 per bungalow, per night. Different packages are available for groups.

Total investments in these lodges go beyond $10 million. Some are financed through personal funds, others through pools of investors, while others are supported by NGOs, such as Les Cabanes. They employ, in total, no less than 100 people each, but indirect beneficiaries represent a greater number. These include authentic food suppliers in various villages, nature reserves, restaurants, and retailers in these areas.

The Ministry of Tourism launched last year a nation-wide plan to boost eco and rural tourism. The tourism plan is a joint initiative between the US Agency for International Development (USAID), in collaboration with Hospitality Services, organizer of the Horeca Exhibition. This project is part of the five-year $41.7 million Lebanon Industry Value Chain Development (LIVCD) project by USAID. LIVCD is implemented by Development Alternatives, Inc. (DAI), a Washington-based private development company, and developed by Beyond Beirut, a local non-governmental development organization, in cooperation with the MoT.

The ministries of tourism and environment have also signed a protocol of collaboration to promote eco-tourism. The protocol includes activating eco-tourism through promoting reserves and the country to foreign nations, through embassies and diplomatic bodies. The protocol aimed at boasting eco-friendly and greener hospitality establishments, including hotels, restaurants, and resorts.
Reported by Rana Freifer
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Date Posted: Aug 21, 2015