In the early hours of the morning, glamorously dressed women climb on top of a table in one of Lebanon’s most fashionable nightclubs, dancing to the beat of the music streaming from the loudspeakers. It is Thursday night and it’s business as usual for the many bars and clubs showcasing Lebanon’s party scene.
Thousands of people have sought a similar experience in Beirut, a city known for its vibrant nightlife. However, the unstable political situation aggravated by the war in nearby Syria has reversed the trend. According to statistics provided by the Ministry of Tourism, some 1.3 million visitors came to Lebanon in 2013, recording a 6.69 percent drop in comparison with 2012 during which 1.4 million arrivals were registered and a 40 percent drop from 2010, which witnessed the arrival of 2.2 million people.
In spite of a difficult year, club owners are hopeful for the coming season. A wide-ranging security plan launched this spring aims to curb the number of bombings targeting certain areas of the capital. “We have witnessed positive results in the past few weeks,” says Claude Saba, general manager of Add-Mind holding, a company that owns several Lebanese clubs such as Iris, WHITE Beirut and Eight.
The wave of instability has also kept away GCC nationals, which has meant the nightlife industry now has a greater reliance on locals. “Lebanese people are party-goers, they enjoy life no matter what goes on in the country and they love to go out and have a good time. They’ve always been that way, even during the worst times of the civil war,” says Michel Elefteriades, owner of Music Hall. This unstoppable joie de vivre has allowed the Lebanese to positions themselves as trendsetters on the regional nightlife scene.
Behind all the glitz and the beautiful people is a hugely profitable industry. The figures are revealing: investments typically range from 1.5 million US dollars for lounge venues to 6 million for larger clubs, explains Saba. For powerful market players, good margins make this particular segment of the tourism industry extremely profitable. Revenue per table can run into five-digit sums, while profit margins for Lebanese bars and clubs fluctuate between 25 and 40 percent.
“However, whenever the country goes through a bad period, it reverberates across the industry,” admits Elefteriades. The fragile security situation has pushed many players to eye new markets, namely in the United Arab Emirates. The oil-rich Emirates are only three hours away from Beirut by plane, and are home to a large Lebanese expat community. Both Music Hall and the Add-Mind Group have set up shop there: Elefteriades has recreated the unique Music Hall cabaret experience in Dubai. He is also thinking of further expanding in a number of cities such as London, Istanbul and Paris. The owners of Add-Mind are no strangers to the trend: they have brought glamor to rooftop bars in cities such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
In spite of the many challenges, Beirut will remain among the liveliest cities after dark. And with the launch of famous new Lebanese clubs around the region, partygoers can get a taste of the Middle East’s hottest party capital.