Hospitality in Lebanon Offers Long-Lasting Memories
Visitors to Lebanon are often surprised to find their image of a conflict-ridden country is turned on its head when they encounter expansive beaches and lush mountains resorts, historic sites and world-class restaurants and, above all, endless hospitality.
Hospitality is the key to success for Nada Akl who runs the hotel in the town of Zahle that her father and grandfather managed before her. Nada points to a black and white photograph of the hotel that was taken 45 years ago.“This picture [below] was taken at a time when Lebanon was called the Switzerland of the Middle East.”
Located in the heart of Zahle, the Akl Hotel is well-known throughout the Bekaa Valley. Nada’s grandfather opened the business in 1968 and her family has run it ever since. The hotel is just of many in a chain of rural inns that exemplify hospitality, or DHIAFEE in Arabic.
What better name for the program initiated by ANERA eight years ago to promote the development of rural tourism in Lebanon. Inspiration for the project came from the dire economic conditions in Lebanon’s rural areas, which faced high unemployment, a lack of infrastructures and poverty.
Economic Development in Lebanon Through Family-Owned Inns
The goal was to build economic opportunities through tourism and the DHIAFEE program helped upgrade the quality of accommodations in rural areas and promoted a more equitable distribution of resources among Lebanon’s regions. It also created a network of rural lodgings to make it easier for tourists to navigate.
Nada got advice on how to improve services, from offering breakfast to renovating the main living room.
Nada explains how the program worked. “I took part in several workshops. To start with, we got a first aid certificate. That was followed by catering courses. They also helped me a lot with communication in terms of website design, brochures and online marketing.” Nada says the whole process has helped her attract travelers from abroad, who mostly prefer to book their bed & breakfast on the Internet before arriving in Lebanon.
The beautiful hotel has high ceilings and vintage furnishing.
“They also gave me a lot of ideas to make the place more cozy,” Nada smiles as she shows off the beautiful old mansion with its high ceilings and vintage marble floors. Her love for the hotel is obvious. More than just memories, it represents her determination to keep the family’s heritage alive, even during fast-changing times. Seeing Lebanon through Nada’s eyes is a privilege for visitors who otherwise would miss experiencing Lebanon’s traditions.
Today there are 51 cottage inns and hotels in the DHIAFEE chain, from hotels and inns to eco lodges nestled in the mountains to accommodate hikers and environmentalists.
The program was funded by USAID and implemented by ANERA between 2005 and 2007, in partnership with Al Kafa’at Foundation, a vocational training institute. The impact was immediate and long-lasting: DHIAFEE inns are among Lebanon’s most popular accommodations.