Lebanon’s Beaches: Sand Castles for the Rich
Summer has arrived, and with it a rise in the entry fees to beach clubs. Lebanon’s coastline, which is publicly owned, is now the reserve of a wealthy few. Its patrons are increasingly restricted to those who can pay an exorbitant $30 just to park and enter.
Thousands of Lebanese wait for summer season so they can escape the concrete city to spend the day at the beach. However, in Lebanon there are now only a few meters of coast designated as public beaches. A large section of Lebanese can no longer dip their feet into the sea along their vast coastline.
From the North to the South, the beach has been “privatized.” This privatization does not bring the national treasury any revenue, it fills the pockets of politicians who have taken over the beaches.
There are very few choices now: 250 beach clubs are the only way the Lebanese can access the sea. Every year, the price of entry rises and every year the purchasing power of the people falls, so the choices become fewer and fewer.
Entry fees have risen by about 5,000 Lebanese Lira (LL) ($3.3) since last year in the majority of Lebanese beach clubs. The lowest price for entry recorded is LL20,000 ($13), rising to LL48,000 (over $30) in some.
The chairman of Marine Tourist Operations, Jean Beiruti, believes that there is a rise, but that it is no more than 10 percent. This is because the cost of investment has risen annually with the rise in the cost of goods and services.
Beiruti complains that there are fewer people going to the beach in this current tourist crisis. He indicates that during the week, there is hardly any activity, because people are at work and students are still at school.
This lack of custom does not surprise Lebanese families. How can a family with a low or middle income — with, for example, five members — pay between LL100,000 - 200,000 ($65 - 130) to get to the beach?
This is of course without factoring in the price of water, food, and drinks, because most beach clubs employ people to search bags upon entry, so that not even a bag of chips enters the club.
In beaches further from the capital, prices are lower because their customers are local. The owner of the south of Beirut Jisr Beach Club, Ghanem Abdallah, explains that entry has gone up from LL15,000 ($10) last year to LL20,000 ($13) this year.
He points out several reasons for this: the cost of diesel, the increase in the wages and transport costs of the employees, the rise in providing electricity under the current severe rationing schedule, and the rise in prices of materials to clean the pools.
“We employ more than a 100 people, but in one day, we do not have more than 20 customers. We used to rely on expatriates, but the political situation has prevented them from coming home this year,” Abdallah says.
The owner of Deauville beach club in Khaldeh, Ribal Abu Ghannam, concurs. He points out that electricity is essential, “from air conditioning, pool filters, to the kitchen and lighting. With the rise in the price of diesel, the cost of operating the generator has risen to $15,000 a month.”
However, Ghannam insists that the entry fee is still the same as last year: LL20,000 for adults and LL10,000 for children.
To enter the Cyan beach club in Kaslik (north of Beirut), one has to pay LL25,000 ($16) on weekdays and LL30,000 ($20) on the weekend. The rise from last year is LL3,000 ($2) according to Minerva Rahmeh, who maintains that this year customer activity has fallen by 20 percent compared to last year.
The cost of entry to Belle Mer in Keserwan (north of Beirut) is LL10,000 ($6.50), having been LL8,000 ($5.50) last year. One of the owners says that there are no customers because expatriates have stayed away and school public exams have started.
As for the Riviera Beach Hotel in Beirut, the entrance fee is LL36,000 ($24) during the week for adults, LL26,000 ($17) for children. But on the weekends, this rises to LL48,000 ($32) for adults and LL30,000 ($20) for children.
The hotel manager, Nizam Alouf, explains that this is a 10 percent rise compared to last year. He says the reason behind this is the cost of operating the club, pointing out that there are very few expatriates and tourists this year, and they are hosting 30 percent fewer customers than last year.
Beiruti maintains that clubs charging more than LL40,000 for entry number no more than five in the whole of Lebanon. Meanwhile, 70 percent of them charge LL20,000 ($13) on weekends and LL15,000 ($10) on weekdays. He explains that these clubs are seasonal operators, and offer many services once inside.
What people do not realize is that the showers, monitoring, and health and safety are real costs, amounting to thousands of dollars. He points out that the salary of life guards has gone up from $400 to $800. The cost of chlorine and electricity has risen, increasing operating costs by 10-15 percent.
Beiruti says that the clubs are totally prepared for the summer season, but he points out that the holy month of Ramadan will begin on July 20 this year. More than 50 beach clubs will completely shut down during this month, while activity in others will fall by 50 percent. From now until Ramadan, there are public exams. Therefore the clubs will lose out on students, who are their biggest customers.
Beiruti points out that this sector will suffer great losses this year. “Activity is already 40 percent less during weekdays, so there cannot be a huge fall next month.” He explains that beach club operators are not a “shop” — they cannot close their doors during the summer. They have to take on the losses in the hope that things will get better.
Of course, the beach clubs suffer greatly from the reduction in the number of tourists and the rise in costs. But the people are also suffering, waiting to see what happens, saving their money in case the political situation deteriorates. Worse yet, they are not allowed to have some leisure time on a beach that is supposed to be public property.
The Rising Cost of Beirut
Yesterday, the Mercer report on the cost of living in the world in 2012 came out.
Despite a reduction in cost in a significant number of countries because property prices have fallen, Beirut has risen by 8 positions from last year, to rank 67th in the world.
It knocked Abu Dhabi out of second place, crowning itself the most expensive city in the Middle East after Jaffa-Tel Aviv.
The six most expensive cities in the Middle East in 2012 rank as follows: Jaffa, Beirut, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Amman (Jordan), Riyadh.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.