Remarks by Deputy Chief of Mission Edward White
Good morning Minister Bassil, Bishop Khairallah, Messrs. Lahoud, Geagea, Khoury, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. I am delighted to be with you here today in this beautiful region to inaugurate the Bchaaleh (B-cha’ali) rehabilitated hiking trails and to be in the presence of these spectacular olive trees. I am also pleased to announce that as part of the U.S. government’s support to tourism in Lebanon, we have scientifically confirmed that they are more than 2,000 years old!
As most of you may know, rural tourism contributes to sustainable economic development. In Lebanon, rural tourism is gaining importance as a significant contributor to the economy at both local and national levels. In the last decade, the private sector has had the lead the development of many of these rural tourism initiatives.
Despite its importance and evolution, tourism continues to face several challenges that are keeping the sector from achieving its full potential. Among these challenges is a lack of resources for municipalities to implement their development agendas.
To help the Lebanese government address these challenges, the United States through USAID has been working for the past several years with committed local partners to develop Lebanon’s rural tourism sector. USAID facilitated the establishment of the National Rural Tourism Strategy in collaboration with the Ministry of Tourism in 2015. We partner with rural tourism stakeholders to meet the objectives of this strategy, including establishing new hiking trails such as the ones we are inaugurating today. We have restored opened new trails and placed new visibility signs for visitors in Jabal Moussa Biosphere Reserve, Bentael Nature Reserve, Tannourine Cedar Nature Reserve, Shouf Cedar Reserve, Ehmej and many others around the country. By investing more than 3 million dollars since 2012, we have helped develop this important sector. The results of our most recent partnership are before us today.
We have also provided business development services for nearly 1,000 micro, small and medium enterprises in the sector, including tour guides, tour operators, guest houses, restaurants, and people working in handicrafts.
We are also proud to say that more than half of our beneficiaries in rural tourism have been women and that women are leading the development of this sector. We know that the environmental situation In Lebanon is a serious concern to its citizens. In the district of Batroun, we have also been investing to protect the environment, where we have implemented forest fire prevention and management strategies, and planted more than 6,000 trees in several villages of the region.
These results were made possible through the collaboration and commitment of our local partners and communities, especially the Bchaaleh (B-cha’ali) Association for Development with whom we are celebrating our success today.
In order to build on our recent efforts and truly realize the full potential of this sector however, there needs to be more resources and more commitment on part of the government to support municipal development to complement international partners such as USAID.
In conclusion, I would like to thank Ministers Bassil for his presence with us today and Mr. Lahoud for his valuable collaboration. I would also like to thank Mr. Geagea and the Municipality of Bchaaleh for providing us with the needed support to successfully conclude this partnership.