Simon Calder: 'I want Ryanair and easyJet to fly to Beirut'

The man who pays his way

Friendly locals, beautiful scenery, proud history, delicious cuisine and rich culture: remind you of anywhere? It should. The vast majority of the nearly 200 nations promoting their tourism credentials at the World Travel Market in London this week used all these concepts to promote themselves, though Greenland, Cuba and Belarus may have struggled for credibility in the "cuisine" bit.

The recipe is simple. To those raw materials just mentioned, individual countries throw in extra spice as appropriate to entice visitors: dramatic shores, great skiing (don't try it, Holland) and – for the desperate – "island/city/ nation of contrasts". One year, both Colombia and neighbouring Ecuador used the latter slogan, adding a new dimension to their long-standing territorial tussle.

By the end of several days of meetings, you feel as though the world has taken a few thousand revolutions in a liquidiser. The result: a sunny-but-bland Utopia where every population is as welcoming as it is diverse, where rain falls just enough to create the promised paradise for nature lovers, and whose vibrant cities offer fascinating museums, chic cafés and luxurious hotels.

If the pronouncements of tourism ministers at the travel industry's biggest event can be taken at face value, it seems that everywhere you go, happy travels are guaranteed. Yes, minister, I'm sure readers of The Independent Traveller are already packing their bags for Guadalumpa, that hidden tropical gem.

Reality, sadly, is usually less idyllic and more complicated, which is why I was so pleased to meet Lebanon's tourism minister, Fadi Abboud. His Excellency's team had prepared the standard background: Lebanon is, apparently, a country "full of culture and authenticity" with a "vibrant capital" plus "wine regions, heritage areas and skiing". (Just in case you were wondering, using the internationally agreed standard, it is half the size of Wales.) But with commendable candour, the minister conceded that not everything is perfect, and told me what he intends to do about it.

I observed that I could fly from London to Larnaca in Cyprus and back for well under £200. But Middle East Airways and BMI – the only two airlines currently flying non-stop to Beirut – want at least twice as much for a flight only 15 minutes longer.

While other ministers might have shrugged off the issue with a few platitudes, Mr Abboud laid into his own national carrier.

"I agree. We need cheaper flights." He was scathing about the incumbent airlines, saying they charge "unacceptable" fares: "I really want Ryanair and easyJet to consider Lebanon. They'll have the full backing from my ministry. I will make sure they have the rights to fly to Lebanon."

This week Ryanair launched its first flight to Cyprus: from Charleroi in Belgium to Larnaca, at absurd fares (€43 return), out on 1 December, back 10 days later). And easyJet already flies from Luton to Tel Aviv. So His Excellency may not need to wait too long for the first no-frills flight to the shores of ancient Phoenicia, fringed by the azure Mediterranean, resonant with Biblical history yet dazzlingly 21st century (this hyperbole is infectious).

But what about the strident warning from the Foreign Office to prospective visitors of "A general threat from terrorism in Lebanon ... Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers"?

Mr Abboud's response: "Thank God the Brits do not do what they're told. If we take the last 20 years, I don't know of any tourist incident to write home about." And then he laid into someone else's territory: "I think we're much more secure than Mexico".

How to play Middle East geo-politics

A hurdle for any would-be visitor to Lebanon is the stipulation that presenting a passport with evidence of a visit to Israel will result in being denied entry. I asked the tourism minister, Fadi Abboud, about this awkward intrusion of geo-politics into travel. To my surprise he explained how to get around the rule:

"We do not like to stamp a passport with a stamp to Israel, but there are ways around it. You can visit Israel and ask the Israeli authorities not to stamp your passport." He recommends you ask officials to get the stamp on a separate piece of paper.

And while there are no direct links from Israel to Lebanon, Mr Abboud pragmatically explained that the two can be easily combined: "It's a 20-minute flight from Tel Aviv to Cyprus, and another 20 minutes to Beirut, so it is not impossible. We are grown-ups. We do not want to punish people who decide to visit Israel. It's not the end of the world."

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Extras
indybest
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan stars as Christian Grey in the Fifty Shades of Grey movie
filmFirst look at Jamie Dornan in Fifty Shades of Grey trailor
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Day In a Page

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform