After five years at the Radisson Blu Gautrain Hotel Tracey Bolton was offered the position to head up sales and marketing at the iconic InterContinental Phoenicia Hotel in Beirut, Lebanon, and she “jumped at the chance.”
I chat to her about her experiences in Lebanon…
What was it like?
As an expat living in Lebanon it was great. I did my research before going and I visited Beirut, so I got a really good idea of the people and the culture. Beirut is a very eclectic mix of old and new, it is quite extraordinary as you have some very modern buildings and shopping malls then across the road are desolated buildings still riddled with bullet holes from the civil war. It such a mix of old and new all entwined together. Lebanese society is very modern and similar to certain cultures of Southern Europe as the country is ‘linked ideologically and culturally’ to Europe through France, and its uniquely diverse religious composition a rare environment that is a good mix of Arab and European.
Were you ever afraid?
Lebanon is the safest country in the Middle East, especially for woman and it has one of the lowest crime rates in the world today. Never once was I afraid I would get mugged or hurt in any way, where we lived, Mar Michael in Beirut, you can walk safely in the streets at night, not having to look over your shoulder. Towards the borders there are no-go zones and as long as one is aware of these you will have no problems. Whilst living there Lebanon went through the Revolution in October of 2019 which caused a lot of political unrest and protests, however we just avoided these areas and never felt threatened.
How did you find the people and their culture?
Oh wow, the Lebanese are the most loving, caring, welcoming people, With a history as deep as Lebanon’s there are many families who have lived in the country for generations, and they all have very interesting stories to tell. The Lebanese family is one of diversity, war history and adventure. Many will be very proud to tell you stories of their ancestors and how ‘important’ their family was to the country’s history. From prehistoric times, Phoenicians, Romans, Ottomans and French, this small patch of land has seen a myriad of human activity. This crowded history has left its markings littered all over Lebanon and in its people. Lebanon is a truly diverse country with varying religions, lifestyles and even genetics.
The Lebanese are extremely proud of the amount of cultural heritage they share. The sheer diversity of culture has made for an interesting group of people living together in one place. From customs to received ‘modernities’, the Lebanese have accumulated a wide mix of different cultures over the years. Lebanon is known as the party capital of the Middle East and boy do the Lebanese know how to party.
If you ever meet a local outside of Lebanon, they’ll probably tell you nobody parties like the Lebanese – this is VERY true. Music and dance are part of the Lebanese spirit. Living in Beirut, you’ll be surprised how lively the nightlife is. To many, this is a source of pride as, to them, it reflects the country’s modern spirit. The Lebanese are really proud of themselves, they truly believe in themselves as individuals and as a people. The locals know that despite their country’s rocky history, they’ve managed to come out on the other side stronger – they are true survivors and are ingrained into my heart forever.
For me the history of Lebanon is fascinating. Did you know that Lebanon is a former French Protectorate, so French is the second most spoken language in the country, after Lebanese and then followed by English?
The oldest Roman ruins are found in Lebanon in BAALBEK, wow what an awesome experience. The Temple of Jupiter was a colossal temple dedicated to the Roman god Zeus and it remains one of the biggest surviving Roman temples to date. The temple itself is perched on top of 3,000 stone blocks, each weighing around a ton.
BYBLOS is a historic coastal city located on a sandstone cliff 42km north of Beirut. It is one of the oldest cities in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Byblos is also home to a beautiful harbor, Byzantine churches, a Roman road, and more.
In 1836, an American missionary, Reverend William Thomson, made a startling discovery: the JEITA GROTTO. Thomson fired his gun when he reached 50 meters into the cave and the echoes made it clear to him that he’d found an impressively large cavern 9km underground.
Lebanon was once home to a vast forest of cedar trees – CEDARS OF GOD, but over the centuries, most of the wood has been gradually stripped away. It’s even said that Gilgamesh, the legendary Sumerian King, used cedar wood to build his historic city.
Did you get used to the cuisine?
What is not to love about the Lebanese cuisine, it’s one of the best cuisines in the world. The local dishes like tabbouleh, hummus and kebab are some of the world’s favorites.
Lebanese food is in the top 10 of the world’s healthiest cuisines because of their low-fat options such as hummus, tabbouleh and other dips and salads. Although relatively simple and grassroots in nature, Lebanese cuisine is incredibly delicious. The heart of flavour in Lebanese food is spice. Add this to a deluge of core ingredients like chickpeas, lamb, fresh veggies, grilled cheeses and fried sujuk and you have some extremely tasty and delicious food.
So, from Lebanon to an Indian Ocean Island! How excited are you about your new position with Banyan Tree Ilha Caldeira?
I will always see Lebanon as my home away from home, and I miss my Lebanese family. However I am back to my African roots and passionate about our country, alongside a prestigious pioneer of a brand such as Banyan Tree Group is not only exciting but a privilege.
It is not something I take lightly and being the first of its kind on the Southern African Continent, I intend to make it a success – the first ultra-luxury private island in Mozambique, something I have always aspired to be part of.
What inspires you about your position as Director of Sales & Marketing Banyan Tree Ilha Caldeira?
I am inspired by the fact that my team and I will be the first to be part of making history in Mozambique by opening the first ultra-luxury private island for the country. I am thrilled to lead and motivate my team as the pioneers in this venture for Banyan Tree Group and Mozambique.
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