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LEBANON: MANY BUSINESSES PLAN TO EXPAND, DESPITE UNREST

Mar 13th, 2008 3:47:49 am - Subscribe

Copyright 2008 IPS - Inter Press Service/Global Information Network

BEIRUT, Lebanon, Feb 6 2008 - Mona Alami

The year 2008 has already been grim for most Lebanese businesses: Struggles with the nation's permanent protest movement, security problems, a brief war in a Palestinian refugee camp and sporadic bombings have brought the nation to its knees.
Most recently a bomb tore through the bustling Chevrolet area on the outskirts of Beirut on Jan. 25, killing Captain Wissam Eid from the Internal Security Forces.
As the political situation tips further in the direction of widespread insecurity, however, Lebanese businesses around the country are clinging to the motto, "the show must go on." Expansion seems to be the word on the street in Beirut, no matter what the uncertain future may hold.
ABC, a major department store and mall with seven outlets, two main flagship stores and a staff of more than 1,000 is currently revamping one of its main branches in Dbayeh.
"In March, we are also launching a new section extending over an entire floor of 8,000 square meters dedicated to children, dubbed Kidsville. It will also include a 500 square meter playground, an array of kids' accessories and a coffee shop, La Mie Doree," said Robert Fadel, ABC's general manager. A second big store in the Ashrafieh suburb of Beirut is adding an extension for a playground that will fill an expanse of 800 square meters.
The Johnny R. Saade group is also jumping on the expansion bandwagon. Its travel and tourism arm, Wild Discovery, will be setting up shop in Kaslik in northeast Lebanon in a few months.
"We decided to push forward with the opening of new branches in Lebanon despite the prevailing situation, following the simple strategy that one has to invest and position oneself in times of relative crisis to prepare for the inevitable economic and political recovery that can be foreseen," said Sandro Saade, one of company's owners.
"This opening is also justified by a strategic objective to cover the northern Beirut area, where there is a demand for high-quality travel services."
The company's real estate arm boasts a $30 million residential project sprawling over 18,000 square meters in one of Beirut's posh suburbs. In addition, the group is developing a winery in Bekaa Valley, near the villages of Kefraya and Tell-Denoub, covering a 50-hectare swath of land. The project is estimated at $25 million and will employ 50 people, excluding seasonal workers.
"The Lebanon venture will also integrate two other complementary projects, namely a wine museum and a boutique hotel, or 'h"tel de charme'" with 30 to 35 rooms, said Karim Saade, another company owner.
It is not just big names that are taking a leap of faith into the murky Lebanese waters.
Nehme Lebbos, founder of Iloubnan, a news portal for Lebanon, left his home country in 1991 and worked as an IT consultant for 12 years in France before coming back.
"I wanted to come back ever since I left. I started IIoubnan in March 2005 with the help of my wife, a French journalist," Lebbos said. "It is a Web magazine dovetailed with an e-commerce wing."
The young entrepreneur has poured all his savings into this venture, relying on a bank loan, as well. The company's recent success has allowed for an increase in operations, with four journalists employed on a full-time basis and a network of 20 freelance journalists around the world.
A shared vision of Lebanon seems to cement together the diverse business figures. "Lebanon is our homeland and we believe in our country," Fadel said. On the other hand, Lebbos is conscious of the risks he might incur but is nonetheless determined to promote change in his home country.
Although most companies are investing in Lebanon, many have also looked to taking their business abroad. ABC will be opening in Jordan in March. "The company will bring to the Jordanian market a spirit of Lebanon, and aims at becoming a leading and trendy shopping destination," Fadel said.
Similarly, the Saade brothers are relying on an international network of agencies for their tourism activity as well as launching a new winery in neighboring Syria. The group is trying to counter the negative business environment by highlighting the quality of its services. And so Wild Discovery is investing in an in-house sales training program expected to enhance its team's knowledge and technical skills.
For most entrepreneurs, the essential rationale linking their projects is endorsing Lebanon as a brand in the region. Lebbos believes that this cannot be done without the help of young Lebanese people. "They need to travel, study abroad, graduate and experience foreign countries," he said, and "then come back and invest in Lebanon."
mood: randy
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Arab wine production set to increase

Mar 13th, 2008 3:46:59 am - Subscribe

decanter.com
February 27, 2008
Oliver Styles

The production of wine in Arab countries around the Mediterranean is on the increase, with Syria set to begin production within two years.
According to news agency AFP, wine production and quality in Algeria, Eygpt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco and Tunisia is experiencing a 'renaissance' and 'blooming' following years of civil war, nationalisation and religious opposition.
The countries produce 146m bottles of wine and the sector has a turnover of £170m (US$340m, €226m).
In Egypt, production has doubled since the millennium. The country produces 8.5m bottles of wine, three quarters of which are drunk by tourists.
Although its neighbour Lebanon is an established wine producer, Syria looks set to drastically increase its production within two years. This is due to 'vast' vineyard plantings near the mediterranean port of Latakia by Syrian businessman and shipping tycoon Johnny Saade.
Following recent civil unrest and Isreali military incursion in 2006, Lebanon has seen its wine production revived. Although most of its vineyards are found in the strategically important Bekka Valley, turnover in 2007 was up 10%.
In northwest Africa, Algeria, once the world's biggest wine exporter, falls in alongside Morocco and Tunisia in terms of production. According to AFP, the three countries produce the majority of Arab wine with 13m hectares under vine. Around 20% of the countries' wines are exported to Europe. According to Hugh Johnson, Morocco 'should have the best vineyards' of the three.
'It's important to battle against the prejudices that surround Arab wines,' said Jean-Pierre Dehut of Morocco's largest producer, Cellars of Meknes (pictured). 'Too many people still believe it's like in colonial days when tankers full of mixed wines sailed across the Mediterranean to top up European wines.'
Morocco has 14 appellations including Les Coteaux d'Atlas and Beni M'Tir.
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Riyadh Withdraws $4.8 Billion Worth of Investments from Lebanon

Mar 13th, 2008 3:46:06 am - Subscribe

Saudi Arabia has withdrawn $4.8 billion worth of investments from Lebanon over the past two years, head of the Saudi Arabian-Lebanese Business Council Abdul Mohsen al-Hakir uncovered on Sunday.

Al-Hakir told the Saudi daily al Watan that the withdrawal came amidst the deterioration of both the political and security situations in Lebanon.

He said a good deal of investments owned by Saudi and Gulf citizens and even Lebanese living abroad were being withdrawn from Lebanon.

"Investors began losing their patience," al Hakir said. "What is happening over there (in Lebanon) reflects the painful reality that Lebanon -- which is dear to Saudis and Arabs -- is not dear to some of its citizens who harmed their country at a time the Lebanese economy was in need for development

Naharnet - Beirut, 24 Feb 08
mood: intoxicated
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Investment in Mideast theme parks to top $3tn

Mar 13th, 2008 3:45:23 am - Subscribe

by Talal Malik on Tuesday, 22 January 2008 – Arabianbusiness.com

MEGA ATTRACTIONS: Analysts predict a massive $3 trillion will be spent on leisure and tourism in the Middle East over the next two decades. (Getty Images)
More than $3 trillion is to be spent on leisure and tourism projects in the Middle East over the next 20 years, the head of an international body for theme parks said on Tuesday.
Charlie Bray, president and CEO of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA), said current estimates put the region's attractions, entertainment, and leisure segment at $10 billion in annual revenues already, with yearly growth at 20-25%.
"Globally consumer spending on theme parks is slated to rise by nearly five percent annually, resulting in a $28.5 billion industry by 2011 fuelled by vibrant expansion in nations throughout the world," said Bray, speaking at the inaugural Tourism Development Project and Investment Market in Dubai.
"This increase will be led by the Middle East and Asia, the two fastest-growing attractions and amusements parks markets today."

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, the annual growth rate for the amusement sector in Middle East, Europe and Africa region is slated to be over 5% to 2011, raising yearly attendance to 154 million in just four years, with much of that growth predicted to come from the Middle East.

Upcoming attractions in the region include Dubailand, Restless Planet and Universal Studios Dubailand, Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi, Entertainment City in Qatar, Aquaventure Waterpark at Atlantis on the Palm Jumeirah in Dubai, the Warner Bros-themed park in Abu Dhabi, the Marvel Entertainment Theme Park in Dubai, the WOW RAK theme park complex in Ras Al Khaimah and the Paramount Pictures-branded theme park in Dubai.

Dubailand, a $64 billion tourism, leisure and entertainment project being built in the emirate, this week announced that it would be the location at new DreamWorks Animation theme park, part of a strategic alliance with the US studio behind the hit box-office animated movie Shrek.


mood: whatever
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The man from LEBANON with the diaspora in his sights

Mar 13th, 2008 3:43:14 am - Subscribe

Jreissati's network aims to create an Arab davos

Business in person

In a week dominated by the brutal assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri Lebanon has taken a long hard look at itself.
Amid the huge public outpouring of grief and anger, most attention has been focused on the political ramifications of Hariri's murder. But fears have also been expressed for the well being of Lebanon's economy, which Hariri, more than anyone, was identified with reconstructing out of the ashes of the civil war. His death has raised concerns in the business community about both the prospect for future foreign investment, and retaining current investment levels.

But Lebanese International Business Associations' Network (LIBAN) founder and president Robert Jreissati insists there is much to be confident about despite this week's tragedy.

"Despite my grief for Hariri and his family for its terrible loss, whoever did this wanted to destroy what Hariri has been doing, but we should not be negative," he says. "On the contrary, we should keep on going for a better future, and I am positive about the future."

LIBAN was founded in October, 2000, as a nonprofit, nonpolitical association with the goals of reinforcing economic and commercial relations between young Lebanese businessmen in Lebanon and in countries of Lebanese emigration. Tapping into the talents of the diaspora is the best way to describe its activities. The group is operating in 25 countries around the world and aims at increasing that number by the year end.

Jreissati, 37, is a partner in his father's law firm but now devotes most of his time to setting up new LIBAN chapters, attracting investment, and lobbying the government for practical economic and legislative change.

"In each country we have real success stories," Jreissati says. With unabashed enthusiasm he then reels off a long list of LIBAN's prosperous members around the Middle East and in Europe - the CEOs of conglomerates, industrial leaders, financers, distributors and heads of family businesses.

Jreissati has every reason to be upbeat, LIBAN having launched a new Syrian chapter just 10 days ago in Beirut.

"We asked the leading 10 most prominent Syrians of Lebanese origin to join us, and we invited 10 prominent Syrian businessmen as guest members. We did the same in Turkey last year, and launched it with the Turkish Embassy here in Beirut," he says.

LIBAN's membership policy is the same for each country, bringing together 10 Lebanese businessmen and 10 locals.

"We are a quality group and can afford to pick our members. We want to promote business for honest people, so business ethics are very important. When we choose our members we take into consideration the origin of their money, because we don't want gangsters in our group," he says, the lawyer in him shining through.

LIBAN also has chapters in Cyprus and Switzerland, and is currently in talks about opening up shop in Iraq as well as expanding into the Arab Gulf countries, Jordan and Egypt.

"We would love to launch, from Lebanon, a Palestinian chapter, and also for Libya," he adds. The ultimate aim though, is to create an Arab Davos. "We would make it an annual occasion, and work on opening a chapter in every country in the world."

The next chapter to open will be Jordan, and LIBAN is working in collaboration with Escwa to hold a regional conference in downtown Beirut. "We hope to have the support of the EU, as they have already offered us two experts who have done analysis and research on LIBAN. This would promote at the highest level import and export investment, and to mobilize the Lebanese diaspora abroad for the sake of Lebanon, their sake, and the country they live in," he says.

Jreissati describes the networking that LIBAN promotes as "a win-win situation" for members in terms of business, and the knock on effect for their respective economies.

"The system is not really based on big groups but on smaller concerns and we should help and give support to young people to do business."

The word 'youth' features strongly in Jreissati's language, switching to the topic of why Lebanese emigrate, particularly the youth.

"Young Lebanese people here and abroad feel frustrated because they have no spokesman to lobby for what they want. I am always accusing the government of not doing enough. It is not enough for the government to say we love you and don't go abroad. We cannot be taken by nice words, we are more practical and need more action. Where is the action?" he asks, sitting up in his seat as if to smack his fist on the desk.

"So far we have been forbidden to be among the main economic organizations of Lebanon, except the Foreign Affairs and Emigrants Ministry. What was the reason? Because we are young? But if you see how Lebanon is run it is by young people who provide the work and are active. But when the time comes to hear their opinion they are told to shut up. All these things combine to frustrate young Lebanese business people," he says. "In fact, young business people have had enough in the Middle East, and we will not shut up from now on," he adds.

But it is not just problems for the youth, Lebanon needs to do more for its emigrants by giving them votes and to take reform seriously Jreissati says.

"We can lobby the government and parliament to make better laws and offer incentives, but we are far from Dubai. Why can't Lebanon be a Dubai? Sheikh Maktoum has made it easy to do business in Dubai. So far, Lebanon has not implemented enough incentive for investment."

Jreissati believes that through a worldwide family of Lebanese expatriates, socioeconomic and political reform can happen in Lebanon.

"Lebanese are as wealthy and powerful as the Jews around the world. Whether you like the Jews or not you have to respect them, in the way they help each other and mobilize wealthy people. Why don't Lebanese do this? Lebanese are individualistic abroad, who in many cases went from nothing to creating business empires. If you help, you will profit, we will profit and both countries will profit," he says.

In addition to reclaiming investment from Dubai, Jreissati thinks that Lebanon has the potential to rival Monaco or the South of France as a Mediterranean business and tourist hub. One way of achieving this, he reckons, is to attract investment through Lebanon's offshore company and banking system. And now that Cyprus has joined the European Union it has had to rescind most of its offshore banking laws, which Jreissati believes should provide Lebanon with an opportunity to cash in.

"We should promote the fact that thousands of companies in Cyprus should come here as they cannot operate there anymore and benefit from zero percent tax. You could do billions in offshore business here, and Lebanon would profit. We want foreign companies to have their headquarters in Lebanon through offshore companies, and to be able to import and export to the Arab countries. It could be fantastic," he says with a broad smile.

"I've been working on it, and the Russians have just asked us to translate the Lebanese offshore laws into Russian. There are 34,000 companies closing down now in Cyprus, and if only some come here, they can boost the Lebanese economy," he adds.

But as this week's tragic events have shown again, Lebanon still has a reputation to live down when it comes to providing the kind of stable environment investors require before committing cash. But Jreissati remains almost boyishly enthusiastic.

"Even in dark moments we have to be like a phoenix," he says. "We believe in continuation. Hariri's death is a terrible loss for Lebanon, but Hariri's family have to keep doing what Hariri has done for Lebanon, to keep it alive, and to grow stronger with the younger generation."

20-SECOND RESUME

In the family: Not married. Mother and father both judges, a sister in Omaha, Nebraska, and a brother in Lebanon.
What car do you drive? Mercedes 300E, I like powerful German cars.
Last book you read? “The Secrets of the Lebanese War” by Alain Menargues.
Last vacation? Sharm el-Sheikh, diving, snorkelling and partying,but I spend a lot of time traveling for LIBAN.
Hobbies: Skiing, reading, squash, swimming and traveling.

Amman,28 February2005
Paul Cochrane
The Daily Star

mood: accepted
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