Airlines do more than take business people to meetings, tourists to the beach and high-value freight to remote markets. They play a vital role connecting communities around the world who have been dispersed, either by political or social turmoil, or through economic migration.
Following the 1975 to 1990 civil war in Lebanon, thousands of Lebanese left the country to find new homes in North America, Latin America, Europe and Australasia. The Lebanese diaspora is now an integral part of the country’s culture and economy – expatriate remittances account for around a fifth of Lebanon's economy.
Over nine million Lebanese live abroad and, as new airline routes develop as a result of the country’s economic recovery, they are connecting a global community keen to remember its roots.
There are an estimated three million Americans of Lebanese descent, 44,000 of whom have moved there from Lebanon since 1991 and a million people of Lebanese origin living in São Paulo, Brazil. Tickets to Beirut are particularly hard to find during election time – postal voting is not allowed and many citizens who left during the civil war are still eligible to vote. They combine a holiday in Beirut with the chance to make their mark on the ballot sheet. While most of these returning Lebanese stay with friends and family, the capital’s hotels also tend to be booked out at election time.
Lebanon has a special relationship with the airline industry. The country’s Middle East Airlines kept its aircraft flying throughout the long civil war to provide a vital air bridge from the beleaguered capital to the outside world, despite having its aircraft destroyed and its staff attacked. Now it is focused on developing a global network to bring its citizens together again, no matter where they live.