New app helps users discover secret Lebanon

BEIRUT: Lebanon is a country with countless hidden gems beyond the Roman ruins of Baalbeck and the mineral formations of the Jeita Grotto but the only way to discover tucked-away sites is through local residents who have long safeguarded the country’s best-kept secrets. Luckily, there’s an app for that.

Produced by a team of environmentalists and explorers at the American University of Beirut’s Nature Conservation Center, the newly launched app Daskara (an ancient Arabic word for “authentic village”) offers users a curated list of sights to see across Lebanon.

The app is a mix between Zomato, Lonely Planet and Google Maps, allowing users to plug in a village and peruse its accommodation and dining options and unique sites. With six main categories and a list of subcategories beneath each one, Daskara offers something for everyone.

Keeping true to the team’s commitment to eco-tourism and sustainability, one of the app’s categories is labeled “Eco Solutions,” where users can find organic farms as well as sites for composting and recycling.

Another category, “Nature Encounters,” lists locations of flora and fauna unique to specific areas, along with bird watching and stargazing spots.

“The subcategories are particular to a variety of cultural interests,” Moustapha Itani, an ecosystem management specialist at Daskara said.

“For example, we have added responsible hunting areas. In Lebanon, hunting is a huge sport, but the majority of hunters shoot birds haphazardly despite the fact that SPNL and the University of Balamand have designated zones for responsible hunting.”

The app, he explained, also delineates areas to avoid.

Experts, municipality members, ministries and locals alike have all aided the Daskara team, inputting a number of sites into the app.

Anyone with the app is able to make contributions as they discover the country’s hidden spots.

However in order to ensure the area profiles on the app are curated by their local residents, a representative from each village has the right to accept or veto user contributions.

“The project aims to conserve the natural and cultural assets of each place.

“We wanted local citizens to be the ones to curate and own this information,” Syrine Abi Kheir, the project coordinator at Daskara, told The Daily Star.

“They were the ones who decided what places to post on the maps.

“For example, if there was a cave they want to keep hidden, they could choose not to share that information. Locals do get a say in how their area is represented.”

As of now, 200 Lebanese cities and villages have profiles. While not all of these profiles are chock-full of information, Abi Kheir said the database continues to grow.

“We’re really relying on users to start taking advantage of Daskara and actively participate in contributing locations to broaden our database,” Ramzi Al Malti, the content and task manager at Daskara said.

Shadi Saad, a longtime employee of Baabda’s Hammana Municipality, said he believes the app is a great tool to bring tourists into his hometown without the hassle of coordinating with others to discover its lesser-known sites.

“I’ve helped them out as much as I can, adding things to the app for people to see when they visit us,” he said, expressing excitement about Daskara’s recent launch. “Hammana is bigger than a town, smaller than a city; it’s a piece of the sky.”

Amal Bou Saleh Takieddine, a municipality representative of Baaqlin, looks at Daskara as a tool to work more closely with the community and her constituents.

“After meeting with the team at AUB, we had an expanded meeting with families in the area who agreed to work with us and map particular points of Baaqlin on the app.

“We do a lot of hiking here, and there is so much culture here surrounding food,” she said.

“We want this app to expand to other villages in Lebanon as well, because all the different identities of the different regions deserve to be seen,” she added.

Daskara is currently available for Android users.

Those who are loyal to Apple will have to wait a bit longer as the app awaits approval.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 08, 2018, on page 2.




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