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Lebanon welcomes "boobs and booze" tourists

But do they actually help the economy?

Last summer, rush-hour traffic on the northern highway out of Beirut was backed up for over a mile. This year, according to a government official, it is likely to be backed up twice that distance, although the government has made some efforts to encourage tourists to stay outside of the capital.

"[Tourism] puts a strain on electricity, transport and water," Chaaban said, "and nothing is done to tackle it. We just want them to come here; it's part of the neoliberal aspect of the Lebanese economy, leaving the market to deal with everything."

Tourists are also turfing Lebanese off their own beaches, according to Mona Harb, an urban design expert at the AUB. "Tourism encourages privatization," she said. Under Lebanon's constitution, the coastline is supposed to be accessible to the public, but in practice the government "rents" beach space to hotels and beach clubs which then charge people for entering.

Jean Beyrouthy, the head of Lebanon’s Federation of Touristic Syndicates, defends beach privatization, pointing out that private clubs provide the beaches with much-needed cleaning and maintenance, but with entrance fees of up to $20, they exclude much of Lebanon’s population. Most of the coastline around Beirut is already privately run, and according to Beyrouthy beaches in Tripoli and Saida are likely to be taken over if tourism continues to grow.

An estimated 70 percent of Lebanon’s tourist revenues come from visitors from other Arab countries. Although they do not all conform to the popular stereotype of cocktail-guzzling, uber-rich "Gulfies," many find Lebanon’s eagerness to market itself as a liberal playground for rich Arabs distasteful.

"I'm not happy with tourists thinking they can purchase anyone and everybody," said Mohammed Ali, a young journalist from West Beirut. "Last summer I saw a Saudi woman with a big car double-parked in Hamra, and she was arguing with the policeman. They think that if they buy the pimp and the hotel they can buy anyone."

"The only capacity tourism develops is the capacity to be obsequious," said Rami Zurayk, a development expert at the American University of Beirut.

In spite of its decidedly mixed benefits however, the idea of tourism as a blessing is difficult to shake off. "Part of me is happy, because it's going to be a going to be a big flow of money," Mohammed Ali said. "The Lebanese are always happy when there is money flowing."