Lbnb: local Airbnb launched in Lebanon in answer to banking crisis

App created to bypass bank restrictions and allow payment in local currency

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Lebanon’s economic crisis may have put a cap on people’s foreign-currency deposits, but not their creativity.

Lbnb, Lebanon's answer to Airbnb, was created by hospitality designer and architect Nagi El Husseini, 43, to salvage the hard-hit services sector.

While the online platform looks a lot like the international equivalent, it charges in Lebanese pounds and serves as a marketplace for homestays, holiday rentals and tourism.

Lbnb's Lebanese pound denomination gets around the limits on foreign currency cash withdrawals and online spending imposed by Lebanese banks.

The restrictions came into effect in the summer of 2019 as Lebanon's economic crisis began – the value of the Lebanese pound lost more than 80 per cent of its value in a matter of weeks, banks halted withdrawals and limited spending in foreign currencies. US dollars – once used in tandem with the pound – became scarce as the country’s foreign reserves dried up.

“Because of the financial crisis, people could not use Airbnb anymore,” Mr El Husseini told The National. “So we created a Lebanese Airbnb where everything is in Lebanese.”

The goal, Mr El Husseini said, is to encourage property owners who have spare rooms or houses to put them up for rent and earn a side income.

The platform also aims to promote local travel in major Lebanese cities and offbeat villages.

“Our motto is travel local, pay local,” he said. “We’re not competing with Airbnb. We’re complementing it and trying to fill the gaps in the market.”

While the idea of Lbnb came about in December last year, the platform was finalised in May and the application went live in June.

"We’ve only been running for three months so we’re still a work in progress,” Mr El Husseini said.

The company was approached by several customers shortly after the launch, which proved there was a demand for the initiative.

“They really liked the idea,” Mr El Husseini said. “This was the motivation for us to keep going.”

How does Lbnb work?

Like Airbnb, you can download the Lbnb mobile app.

The application lists apartments, villas, cabins, guesthouses and hotels across the country.

It also groups rental destinations by location, allowing guests to explore Lebanese areas through curated lists.

Prices per night range from 200,000 to 2,000,000 Lebanese pounds (between $132 and $1,323 at the official rate but now only worth between $11 and $111 at the market rate). The fees are determined by hosts and property owners, and have nothing to do with the Lbnb team, Mr El Husseini said.

Payment methods include cash, third-party transfers or ‘lollar’ card transactions. Lollar is a term coined by experts to describe a ‘Lebanese dollar’, or a US dollar deposit in the local banks that are subject to the limits on withdrawals. While the official exchange rate is still one dollar to around 1,507 Lebanese pounds, one lollar is now equivalent to 3,900 Lebanese pounds.

“We are completely tailored to the Lebanese market,” Mr El Husseini said. “All we want to do is provide solutions.”

Updated: September 07, 2021, 9:19 AM