Lebanese brands have a great reputation. Is it time to expand internationally?

Published April 30th, 2014 - 10:16 GMT

Lebanese brands are capable of successfully expanding beyond the Middle East market, said a leading expert in brands, marketing and innovation.

“Lebanese people have a great reputation all around the world, and that is why they should not allow geographical boundaries to restrict their success to the Middle East region only. But they should think in terms of where is the best opportunity and then jump there,” Peter Fisk told The Daily Star on the sidelines of BIFEX 2014 held in the Phoenicia Hotel Tuesday.

Beirut International Franchise Forum & Exhibition is an annual forum for the franchising industry. The two-day conference gathers ambassadors; top names in Lebanese, Arab and international business; brand champions; and legal experts, as well as bloggers and social media activists to exchange views on matters relevant to the franchising industry.

Fisk explained that he had been working with a boutique hotel chain in India, Sri Lanka and Thailand that had hired a team of Lebanese experts in the hospitality industry to train people in these countries.

“Lebanese people have fantastic skills in the hospitality industry,” he said. “They are very hard working and intelligent.”

Fisk says that the limited size of the domestic market should push Lebanese brands to expand.

“I think the opportunity for businesses in Lebanon is to think how they can franchise outward as opposed to within Lebanon,” he said.

“This includes exporting Lebanese skills to other countries that are developing in terms of economy and lifestyles, such as Saudi Arabia and Azerbajian.”

He added that India offered fantastic opportunities as well.

Fisk said he did not favor taking an American franchise and just bringing it to the country like many people do.

“We live in a global world where people want authenticity. So Lebanese have a great opportunity to export their authentic businesses out to the world, and that’s exciting because people here are known for their intellect,” he said.

According to Fisk, Lebanese companies have a competitive advantage due to their small size.

“It is not the big companies who win but the small ones,” he said. “Big companies always struggle to change path, and they cannot reach small groups of people easily. They also cannot adapt to the changing world quickly.”

Lebanon is characterized by small companies, Fisk said, which are more capable of easily adapting to the changing world.

He compared these small businesses to speedboats for their ability to reach small groups of people in different parts of the world.

“You are sitting in the center of the world,” he said. “You’ve got a great fleet of speedboats, so it is about going out there and finding the best opportunities and seizing hem first.”

BIFEX kicked off its first day with a speech by the president of the Lebanese Franchise Association, Charles Arbid, who praised the industry for its 4 percent share of Lebanon’s GDP, which is equivalent to $1.5 billion.

Economy and Trade Minister Alain Hakim praised the pioneering growth undertaken by Lebanon in the field of trade innovation and creativity despite the current, domestic adverse circumstances.

He called upon all segments of society to contribute to the development and progress of the country through solidarity and synergy.

“Lebanese individuals and associations must play a great role in the economic rescue, in addition to fighting the ongoing stagnation and, of course, according to each his responsibility and post,” he said.

“Thus we have called for the stimulation of investments, production, consumption, shopping, tourism, medical tourism, studying and innovation in Lebanon, in addition to starting up from Lebanon to undertake marketing activities and disseminate Lebanese production regionally and worldwide.”

Industry Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan called upon all ministries to work on reducing the budget deficit, which stands at $10 billion per year.

He also vowed to boost Lebanese exports and minimize imports.

“I know that Lebanon will never be able to have a surplus in the balance of trade. It will always rely on imports, but we cannot go on living with such negative budget deficits,” he said.

Tourism Minister Michel Pharaon said that the current government had succeeded in of restoring security stability, which would enable the various ministries to implement their plans for an economic and tourism revival.

“This is why the Tourism Ministry has been focusing for the past few weeks on devising a modern and new working plan, which will be launched from Dubai and then from Beirut, hoping to recover tourism activities this summer after two years of stagnation,” he said.

By Dana Halawi

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