‘We played a crucial role’
SYRIA is a safe country and a great example of Arab hospitality says Deputy Minister of Tourism Eng Mouhannad Kalash. Despite the recent developments in Lebanon, the Syrian market remains stable, he said.
“We played a crucial role during the Lebanon crisis. We received a lot of Lebanese people and offered them our hospitality,” Kalash says.
“Our people welcomed many of the war-hit Lebanese and other stranded tourists into their homes. We opened public places and even schools to accommodate the stream of people who came over to Syria. Our hotels also capitalised on the situation and were ready to meet the influx. We managed to meet the situation to the best of our ability.”
On whether tourism will be hit in Syria due to the end of the Lebanon war, the minister said that most of Syria's visitors come from Arab countries and they know the conditions in the region well.
“The Arabs know the politics of the region well and they know that Syria is a safe country. Around 73 per cent of our visitors this year have been from Arab countries. Despite the recent instability in the region, we still have tourists coming from Europe. Syria has a lot of history which is attractive to tourists from Europe.”
The country has launched a major promotion to get more visitors from Europe and we are hoping to increase the numbers soon. Kalash said Syria is also after another big tourism market – China. We have formulated a strong programme with China. “We are also looking at markets in India, China and Japan. We are doing this jointly with Egypt and Turkey.”
Syria itself is gearing up for more tourism with more investments and improving the quality of services. “We are expecting an investment of $1 billion this year. This is an increase from the $630 million investment last year. There are many projects under way in the country this year. A $200 million resort is coming up. There are many projects in partnership with the government.
“We are also trying to make travel easier to Syria by offering easy visa facilities at the airports and borders. Our archaeological structures get top priority in the country and we make every effort to conserve them. Aleppo is the capital of Islamic culture. We have organised many festivals and other events to attract visitors.
“In 2008, Damsacus will the be the Islamic capital of Arabic culture. We are looking forward to making this a grand occasion. We have planned many events to mark this. My message to visitors is that Syria is a safe country and offers many attractions both religious and historical to tourists,” Kalash added.