For our first stop on our around-the-world balloon tour, we are visiting Lebanon to learn what unique challenges balloon businesses face, and what cultural differences they celebrate.
CURRENCY: Lebanese Pound or Lira
CURRENCY CONVERSION: $1 USD = 1,514.50 Lebanese Pounds
LANGUAGE: Arabic, English, French
FAST FACT: Lebanon is like a culturally diverse mosaic of different religions, languages, and traditions.
Questions & Answers
Would you say balloons are trendy and popular in your country?
Zahraa: Yes, balloons are trendy, popular, and commonly used in many celebrations. Within the last 3-5 years, balloons have become even more popular and used in most celebrations. Balloons do appear in TV shows, music videos, some movies, but we’ve rarely spotted balloons appearing in advertisements.
Is balloon popularity growing or decreasing in your country?
Zahraa: GROWING for sure.
Talar: The balloon business is not new in Lebanon as various companies have been operating for over 15 years. The market has witnessed a great evolution in terms of quality and design, especially with the support of balloon suppliers who created an environment of positive competition, consolidated with training and access to high-quality products. With the development of the event planning industry, customers were no longer requesting simple balloon bouquets but pushed our creativity further to provide mind-blowing arrangements. However, recently, amidst the economic crisis in Lebanon resulting in severe hyperinflation, coupled with all the turbulence in the environment, customers are lowering their spending budgets in terms of balloon decorations as they are considered as complementary products and not a necessity.
What balloon trend have you noticed in your country?
Jad: All kinds of specialty balloons, such as Chrome Balloons.
Zahraa: Some of the leading universal trends are also trends in our country like unicorn themes, tropical themes, twinkle little star theme, safari theme, organic half arches, and hoop designs. The last two designs are the top requests for all occasions all over the country.
Personalizing is a top request to be added to all designs. We introduced the air-filled solid design table piece, which became very famous in Lebanon, selling almost one thousand pieces of it at our shop in 3 years, and it became a top request at all other balloon shops too (pictured below in Zahraa’s design photos). In addition to the solids, Deco-Bubbles are very requested, especially when personalizing. Adding a deco-bubble to any design will give it the wow factor and sell it quickly. We have also introduced a similar version of the solid piece as a bubble piece, and it is one of our top-selling designs too (also pictured in Zahraa’s design photos).
For colors, the Lebanese taste is more classical than daring. For baby boys, they mainly choose blue, and for baby girls pink. As for Weddings, Engagements, and religious celebrations, most of the requests are Chrome Gold/Silver with White only. For birthdays Girls, ever since the Rose Gold hit the market, it became the top requested color for birthdays of any age. Only this year, after popping colors went viral on social media at some luxurious parties, we spotted some Organic Arches with these colors. Still, from our experience, I would say this is a minimal request, not one of the top requests until now.
Some of Zahraa’s Balloon Work
Zahraa Jawad, CBA
Forever Balloons Boutique
Decorator and retailer with a physical storefront
What types of celebrations are popular for balloons in your business?
Zahraa: The main types of celebrations popular for balloons in our business are the Babies and Birthdays.
For a new baby, balloons are a MUST. Note that in the MEA region, we don’t do baby showers. We do the decoration of balloons and chocolate tables after the baby is born, so balloons at the door of the new mom at the hospital is a must, and later at home, another decoration for when guests start to visit.
For birthdays, as the balloon popularity kept growing during these few years, it became more famous to have a full decoration of balloons for a birthday party, now you rarely see a birthday party without balloon decoration, and many will take the balloon design as a gift for the birthday girl/boy.
When is your busiest time of year? What about the slowest?
Wissam: Busiest time is Valentine and Mother's Day, Communion season, and July for weddings.
Zahraa: The slowest time of the year is two parts; the first is in September till October Mid of November; this is the time when schools start, and the preparation for winter begins (that is, people spend a lot on school registration fees, clothes, books, Gas for heating means). The second is in Muharram, which is the mourning month for a part of the Lebanese people, especially most of our customer base. People don’t do celebrations during this month, so balloons purchase during this month is minimal, but not totally dismissed.
Are there many independent balloon retailers (storefronts) in your country, or are mass retail chains more common?
Talar: Most of the operating stores in Lebanon are an independent family business with very few chains (approximately two). It is believed this is due to the narrowness of the local market with a geographical territory of 10452 Km2.
What is the craziest or most bizarre balloon request you have ever received?
Wissam: Lifting a bride with 3-foot balloons and creating a 90-meter building made of balloons.
How/where do you do most of your business? Online or in-person?
Nisrine: Most of the business is in-person, so we interact with the clients and plan customized decorations.
Some of Nisrine’s Balloon Work
Nisrine Obeid, CBA
Decorator and retailer with a physical storefront
Kfarhbab - Ghazir, Lebanon
What about marketing? How/where do you get most of your customers? Word of mouth? Social media? Foot traffic?
Nisrine: We have been in this market for 18 years, and we have many loyal clients, so our marketing is based on success stories and word of mouth advertising
Who is your target market/common customer?
Talar: When it comes to event planning and choosing decorations, it is always the females that initiate the request and conclude it. Most of them are 25-years-old and above and comes from middle to upper social classes since the products we offer are of high quality and thus expensive. But we do our utmost to cater to all budgets.
How has diversity played a part in your career? What challenges and opportunities have been presented?
Talar: The balloon community in Lebanon has long welcomed women artists despite the physical challenges that some orders might incur. Thus, it was natural for me to find support as a woman in this field and be accepted by my peers and society. Even religious and ethnic diversity challenges aren't much existing in Lebanon as we are a very diversified country with 18 sects coexisting. This diversity offers high opportunities to cater to various religious celebrations, both Muslim and Christian.
What unique challenges do you face in your country?
Jad: The political situation has been unstable since October 2019. The economic situation (inflation and lack of USD, regular USD change), and of course, COVID 19.
Zahraa: Lebanon is facing a severe economic crisis that has been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic; the Lebanese currency has lost more than 80% of its value since October 2019. Lebanon became the first Arab country to enter hyperinflation at the end of July, and the local Lebanese pound, which is technically pegged to the US dollar at 1,507 pounds to $1, now trades for above 8,000 pounds to the dollar on the parallel market. Lebanon’s sinking economy is set to plunge further into a record recession following the enormous explosion at Beirut, August 4th.
What unique cultural customs in your country create challenges or opportunities for you?
Nisrine: Religious celebrations in Lebanon are so important, and families plan special events for these celebrations, so it’s a big market and creates great opportunities for our business.
What is your biggest challenge as a business owner in your country?
Talar: The political and economic environment presents the major challenge to our business as it results in a reduced purchasing power and prioritization of budget for first necessities. Access to imported products is becoming very difficult due to capital control and the devaluation of the local currency. The duality of the Lebanese Pound and US Dollars, in addition to the various exchange rates from official fixed at 1500LL for the dollar and the black market at 8000LL for 1 USD, is imposing a fluctuant pricing strategy. Not to mention the impact this is having on the price of Helium as well.
Some of Talar’s Balloon Work
Talar Nishan Arslanian
L'Atelier de Talie
Party supply retailer with a physical storefront
We have found that balloons are a universal language of joy that cross all socioeconomic, cultural, and religious beliefs. Do you have any stories or anecdotes you’d like to share that support that sentiment?
Zahraa: We were the first balloon shop to introduce balloons for the pilgrimage celebration adding the Arabic-related phrases on the solids and personalizing the names of the pilgrims (example included in Zahraa's design photos). This type of celebration is considered to be for the age range that is usually above 50, which is not commonly the balloons customer age range in our region. The idea was a big success, we even got requests for the next year from the pilgrim asking their kids to decorate with balloons when they come back, and this celebration became one of the busiest occasions in Lebanon within the Muslim areas.
Anything else you think people should know about your country?
Nisrine: After all the crisis we are facing in Lebanon, and after the terrible Beirut Blast on August 4, 2020, the Lebanese people are always capable to raise and stand again and enjoy life.
Talar: Despite all the challenges currently facing Lebanon, the people are known to be resilient as they have witnessed several wars, assassinations, bombings, and a fluctuating economy mostly negative. They love to celebrate life in all its aspects and always find ways for rebirth. We count on each other to remain strong and hopeful for better tomorrows.