2009 is drawing to an end. Mine started out with a not-so-fair dose of sad events and disappointments, which made it way easy to swallow that I would not get to see Michael Jackson (a)live in London. For Lebanon, 2009 will be marked as a challenging, yet positive year for the country in general. Challenging, because our greater issues were and continue to be here all along, haunting us, unresolved, threatening to turn the country upside down within minutes. Yet positive, because we have not had a war or significant turmoil, have fared better than many other countries through the global economic downturn, and are ending the year with a President and a Parliament and a Government -- what more could we ask for?
To top it, in 2009 Lebanon had the best tourist season in a long time, some say since the 70s, but certainly since 2004, the last “good year” since the plunge. It has been a while since Lebanon, Beirut in particular, has drawn so much ink in the Travel sections of the world press, where it's long been a hot topic for the Politics section. A recent study showed that Lebanon was one of very few countries where tourism activity actually increased in 2009, up 43 percent over the previous year according to the tourism ministry, although tourists have probably not spent as much as in previous years. What’s more, this record year came about at a time when all the major tourist destinations of the world saw their number of visitors decline in 2009.
Coincidentally, in 2009 Beirut topped the New York Times's ranking of the top 44 destinations to visit in '09 and was listed as one of the top 10 liveliest cities in the world by Lonely Planet. In that same year Beirut was coined, in turn, the “Sin City of the Middle East” in AFP, “Back, and Beautiful” in the Guardian, a “Tourist’s Mecca” in Reportage, and questioned as “Best Party City?” on CNN... Anyone else wants to take a shot at it?
But what really counts in these numbers for us as GiBs, is that the increase was not just more (extended) families coming from the Gulf, but also more tourists from Europe and North America, including gay tourists (now we’re talking!).
Fortunately the buzz also holds true for gay Beirut, for it sure got its share of air time, too. To 'Sin City', Patrick Healy from the NY Times preferred to coin Beirut as the “Provincetown of the Middle East”, named after a low-key Vegas-type city on the U.S. East Coast where "Gay Life is Everywhere" (so much for boring terms like 'Paris/Switzerland of the Middle East'), while a German magazine described Beirut as an “Unspoiled Gay Paradise”. Is this an indication that Beirut's finally coming of age as a gay tourist destination?
But if you ever read these reporter stories, like the NY Times article where you learn all about the BearArabia summer parties (because I doubt you’ll ever read any reviews here on this blog), make sure to handle the hype with care! As Richard Ammon from GlobalGayz.com (beautifully) puts it into context in his response piece Beirut: “Provincetown of the Middle East” - Not!”, it’s still not quite la-la-land around here (as here in Venice Beach, CA)!