Tourism in Syria
Although it has some of the oldest cities in Western Asia, such as Damascus and Aleppo (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), tourism in Syria has been greatly reduced by the Syrian Civil War and its associated refugee crisis. Many former tourist attractions have been destroyed by shelling; flights by all major airlines have been suspended, and many major hotels have closed. It is estimated that considerable investment will be necessary to revive the country's tourism industry.
Before the 2011 crisis
In 2010, tourism had increased considerably compared with the previous year. According to the Tourism Ministry in January 2011, about 6 million foreign tourists visited Syria in 2009; for 2010 the figure was 8.5 million tourists, a 40-percent increase. Tourism revenue was given as 30.8 billion Syrian pounds ($8.4 billion) in 2010, 14 percent of the country's economy. Reports in 2012 from the same Syrian ministry put 2010 tourism industry revenue at $6.5 billion, accounting for 12 percent of the gross domestic product and 11 percent of the nation's employment.
Since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War in March 2011, tourism has declined steeply. According to official reports, hotel rooms designed for foreign tourists have been occupied by refugees. In the first quarter of 2012, tourism revenue was about 12.8 billion Syrian pounds ($178 million), compared with 52 billion Syrian pounds ($1 billion) in the first quarter of 2011, and the number of foreign tourists decreased by more than 76 percent in the 2012 quarter. Employment in the tourism industry was down by "nearly two-thirds" in that period. According to UNESCO, five of Syria's six World Heritage Sites have been affected by the civil war. In 2012, Syria sent a letter to the United Nations describing the decline of its tourism industry, noting that the country's hotel-occupancy rate had fallen from 90 percent the previous year to 15 percent.
As of 2013, overall Syrian tourism revenue had declined by 94 percent, with Aleppo the worst affected, and the Tourism Minister stated, at the end of September 2013, that 289 tourist destinations had been damaged by conflict since 2011.
By 2015, the movement of tourists had declined by more than 98%. The Syrian Ministry of Tourism claimed that 45,000 tourists visited the country in the first half of 2015, but these figures were disputed by observers, according to the Syrian Economic Forum, which stated that Iranian religious tourism was all that remained. According to a 2015 article in The Telegraph, hotels by beaches in the Mediterranean coast in Tartus and Latakia still received internal tourists and one hotel was "full" in the summer of 2014 and 2015.
Promotion of tourism in Syria is handled by the Syrian Ministry of Tourism. Syra's Tourism ministry maintains an active Facebook page as will as an official Syria Tourism website. In September 2016, Syria's Ministry of Tourism drew criticism from some quarters for releasing a video, "Syria Always Beatiful [sic]," encouraging tourists to visit its beaches. The video spotlighted regions such as Tartus, which remain somewhat peaceful, though Tartus saw an attack resulting in the deaths of over 150 in May 2016.
The Ancient City of Aleppo, the old cities of Bosra and Damascus, the Dead Cities of northern Syria, Krak des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Din and ancient Palmyra are the six UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the country. Twelve other sites submitted to UNESCO are on the organisation's tentative list: Noréas de Hama, Ugrarit (Tell Shamra), Ebla (Tell Mardikh), Mari (Tell Hariri), Dura-Europos, Apamée (Afamia), Qasr al-Hayr ach-Charqi, Maaloula, Tartus, L'île d'Arwad and two sites in the Euphrates valley.
The Syrian conflict is reportedly attracting adventure-seekers. According to retired Israel Defense Forces colonel Kobi Marom, who leads tours of the war zone across the Israeli border, tourists are interested in seeing the conflict and go "crazy" when they learn that they are probably being observed by Al-Qaeda militants.
- Monument in ancient Bosra
- One of the Dead Cities
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