Constructing the "Arab Tourist": Leisure and Mobility through/in/of Lebanon, 1920-1970s

By Nadya J. Sbaiti
Submitted to Session P4812 (Tourism, Heritage, and the Politics of Place in the Middle East, 2017 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
This paper traces of construction of the notion of an “Arab tourist” and its shifting definition from the 1920s through the mid-1970s. Using Lebanon as both framing lens and tourist destination, this paper shows how hoteliers, tour operators, guidebook writers, journalists, and ‘average’ citizens identified different “tourist publics”, and explores the assumptions that underwrote how those groups were defined as leisure consumers and producers, and to what end. In large part, the leisure desires, attributes, and backgrounds of the constructed ‘Arab tourist’ occurred alongside the exhibition, defining, and marketing of the political territory of “Lebanon”. Who was delineated as an “Arab” tourist, and how did this person differ from other categories to emerge including “non-Lebanese,” “Syrian,” and “foreign”? This paper thus reveals the central role that tourism, leisure mobility, and the building of national economies, would play in defining those categories over the middle decades of the twentieth century. What currency does Lebanon’s famous nomenclature as “the Paris of the Middle East” have, in this historical light? This paper ultimately attempts to use tourism as a lens to analyze densely nested structures of power and their impact on social and cultural organization. It employs guidebooks from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, tourist brochures and pamphlets, the press, oral history narratives, and official archival records of the French mandate and Lebanese republic.