BEIRUT: For a split second, some people thought they were in London when double-decker buses started roaming the streets of Beirut. However, those buses are not from London, but from Spain, and it was still Lebanon.
City Sightseeing is a hop-on-hop-off bus, founded in 1999, originally from Seville, Spain. It has expanded to over 100 cities all over the world, with Beirut being the most recent.
With franchises of the company constantly spreading to other countries, Viviane Nasr hoped that she could bring it to Lebanon.
She always imagined showing Beirut’s beauty to tourists who have misconceptions about the city. With that, came a personal vendetta to bring the franchise to her home country.
After two years of diligent work, she's now the CEO and founder of City Sightseeing Beirut, and she managed to get the franchise and make her dreams a reality.
Nasr and her entire team were trained in Spain by the company.
“So many Lebanese people who live abroad saw pictures online and kept saying that it's fake. They could not believe it was in Lebanon,” she said. “I still believe in Beirut. It has five thousand years of history and people from all over the world should see it. It was destroyed and built seven times, so there are many ruins,” she added.
Lebanon is rich with a plethora of archeological ruins and historical buildings that have been discovered over the past few decades, but that only a few know about.
Nasr noted that these sites are passed by daily by citizens who are unaware of the history they carry, and “when they’re told about it, they suddenly become interested in the place,” she added.
The bus doesn't only tour Beirut, but on special events, it also tours other historical sites outside the capital. It has also been booked for birthdays, bachelorettes and many other occasions.
According to Nasr, tourists usually have a misconstrued image of Lebanon as a result of the media's representation of it.
“Western media always represent Lebanon as unsafe or scary, but I’ve had so many tourists and foreigners express how they don't understand why they were told that Beirut is not a safe city when it seems safer than Europe and the US to them," she told Annahar.
The bus offers great services to make the whole experience as informative as possible. Passengers are given direct access to a tour guide through earphones distributed on the bus. They can customize their language, having the choice between six languages: Arabic, French, English, Russian, Chinese, and Spanish, with two more to be added next month.
Daniel Noureddine, one of the bus drivers, said: "I feel proud and honored to be able to show my country to people coming from abroad, especially to be able to show it in all its aspects, its truth, its nature, and its archaeology.”
However, traffic is known to be a major drawback in Beirut. Noureddine, like most Lebanese citizens, finds like traffic affects his job.
“Traffic is causing a lot of damage and is messing with our schedules since we have to be at certain stops at a certain time,” he said.
Fatin Diab, an Iraqi tourist, also believes that traffic is an issue in Lebanon.
“There's definitely a traffic problem in Lebanon. There's a delay between what you hear from the tour guide and what you see outside because of traffic,” she said.
To combat this issue, a phone application called “City Sightseeing Beirut” has been developed that allows passengers to track buses with arrival estimations.
Apart from the traffic, the experience as a whole offered many a chance to be fascinated with the country's beautiful sites, like French tourist Adrien Lefièvre, who told Annahar: “Lebanon is beautiful! I especially loved the Roauche rocks. I loved seeing the city.”
The current route is called the “Red line” for Beirut. A “Blue line” that targets Jbeil will be running starting Summer 2020.
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