Lebanon hopes for best season in years as Saudis return

Beirut is hoping for its best season since 2010, with a rise in visitors from both Europe and the Gulf. (AFP)
Updated 12 July 2019

Lebanon hopes for best season in years as Saudis return

  • There are more Western tourists roaming around Beirut’s gleaming city center which was rebuilt from the ruins of the 1975-90 civil war

BEIRUT: Ibrahim Zeeb is visiting Lebanon for the first time in years and says it’s the food he has missed most.

“The best breakfast we’ll find anywhere is here,” said Zeeb as he waited with his children at Beirut airport for a relative flying in to join them from Saudi Arabia.

Lebanon is hoping for its best tourist season since 2010, thanks to a rise in European visitors and a return of Saudis, whose government lifted a travel warning this year.

Once a mainstay of Lebanon’s economy, tourism has been in the doldrums since 2011, when conflict erupted in neighboring Syria. Political disputes in Lebanon and travel warnings against Gulf Arabs flying to the Mediterranean country have added to the industry’s woes.

This year’s promising season marks a rare ray of light in an otherwise gloomy outlook for Lebanon’s economy, which is struggling with massive public debt after years of low growth.

In the first half of 2019 the number of Saudi visitors has doubled from a year earlier, Tourism Minister Avedis Guidanian says.

“The warnings and so on, that’s what kept us away before. But we have big love for Lebanon,” said Zeeb, whose family will spend most of the summer here. “We’re happy, honestly. We saw our people here, from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the Emirates... We’ve all gathered here once again.”

Revenue from tourism will exceed $7 billion in 2019, nearly 46 percent more than last year, Guidanian told Reuters.

“Airlines, hotels and car rental bookings, they all point to very high growth,” he said in an interview at Beirut airport. “And so 2019 could be the best year for tourism in Lebanon.”

He credits the boost to better security, efforts to tap into new markets and a thaw in relations with Riyadh. Ties to Gulf states took a hit in recent years as the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement’s influence grew in Lebanon.

Before the travel bans, Beirut had long been a favorite for Gulf Arabs escaping the stifling summer temperatures at home.

Lebanon is also looking further afield to draw more people to its nightlife, UNESCO world heritage sites, mountain scenery and Mediterranean coast. It expects 40 percent more European travelers this year than in 2010.

“I thought which country can I go to see Arab culture? Then I came across Lebanon and thought why not? It’s safe to go,” said Casper Boks, 21, a student from Amsterdam strolling down Beirut’s busy Hamra street with a friend.

“We’re just walking around the city ... I’m really enjoying it. It’s so different (from) Europe and it’s also so close.”

There are more Western tourists roaming around Beirut’s gleaming city center which was rebuilt from the ruins of the 1975-90 civil war.

Though the peace has held since then, there are occasional lapses — most recently a deadly shooting in the popular Chouf mountains involving followers of rival Druze leaders.

Guidanian has described the incident as a hiccup Lebanon will soon overcome. He has pleaded with politicians not to let tensions flare, warning this would ruin the summer forecast.

“There’s progress from the past years ... though not as much as our ambitions,” said Pierre Achkar, head of the Lebanese Hotel Association.

“We’ve suffered and the losses built up, but today, we’re at the start of the ascent.”

BMW picks insider Zipse as CEO to catch up with rivals

Oliver Zipse
Updated 19 July 2019

BMW picks insider Zipse as CEO to catch up with rivals

  • German giant has lost ground to Mercedes-Benz and Tesla as tech steps up

FRANKFURT: BMW has named Oliver Zipse as its new CEO, continuing the German carmaker’s tradition of promoting production chiefs to the top job even as the auto industry expands into new areas such as technology and services.
Hailing Zipse’s “decisive” leadership style, BMW hopes the 55-year-old can help it win back its edge in electric cars and the premium market  from rival Mercedes-Benz.
But some analysts questioned whether Zipse was the right choice with new fields such as software and services like car-sharing becoming increasingly important.
“What is intriguing is the cultural bias to appoint the head of production. It works sometimes but ... being good at building cars is not a defining edge the way it was 20 years ago,” said Jefferies analyst Philippe Houchois.
Current CEO Harald Krueger, and former chiefs Norbert Reithofer, Bernd Pischetsrieder and Joachim Milberg were all former production heads.
Zipse joined BMW as a trainee in 1991 and served as head of brand and product strategies and boss of BMW’s Oxford plant in England before joining the board.
He will become chief executive on Aug. 16, taking over from Krueger who said he would not be available for a second term.
“With Oliver Zipse, a decisive strategic and analytical leader will assume the Chair of the Board of Management of BMW. He will provide fresh momentum in shaping  the future,” said Reithofer.
Zipse helped expand BMW’s efficient production network in Hungary, China and the US, in a move that delivered industry-leading profit margins.
Under Krueger, BMW was overtaken in 2016 by Mercedes-Benz as the best-selling luxury car brand.
It also had an early lead over US  rival Tesla in electric cars, but scaled back ambitions after its i3 model failed to sell large numbers.
Reithofer initially championed Krueger’s low-key consensus-seeking leadership, but pressured him to roll out electric vehicles more aggressively, forcing Krueger to skip the Paris Motor Show in 2016 to reevaluate BMW’s electric strategy.
Krueger’s reluctance to push low-margin electric vehicles led to an exodus of talented electric vehicle experts, including Christian Senger, now Volkswagen’s (VW) board member responsible for software, and Audi’s Markus Duesmann, who is seen as a future CEO of the company.
Both were poached by VW CEO Herbert Diess, a former BMW board member responsible for research who was himself passed over for BMW’s top job in 2015.
VW has since pushed a radical 80 billion euro ($90 billion) electric car mass production strategy, and a sweeping alliance with Ford.

Other skills
“A CEO needs to have an idea for how mobility will evolve in the future. This goes far beyond optimising an existing business,” said Carsten Breitfeld, chief executive of China-based ICONIQ motors, and former BMW engineer. “He needs to build teams, attract talent, and promote a culture oriented along consumer electronics and internet dynamics.”
German manufacturers have dominated the high-performance market for decades, but analysts warn shifts towards sophisticated technology and software is opening the door to new challengers.
“Tesla has a lead of three to four years in areas like software and electronics. There is a risk that the Germans can’t catch up,” UBS analyst Patrick Hummel said.
Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport car magazine, normally quick to champion German manufacturers, this week ran a cover questioning BMW’s future.
“Production expertise is important, but if you want to avoid ending up being a hardware provider for Google or Apple, you need to have the ability to move up the food chain into data and software,” a former BMW board member said.