Syria: New Tourism Getaway?
OVER the past ten years, Syria has seen rapid visitor number growth and now welcomes more tourists per head than several more estab-lished destinations in the region.
In 2007, Syria has been encouraging tourists from the MENA region, traditionally been the mainstay of the sector, as well as from further afield.
Currently, 74 per cent of all foreign visitors to Syria come from the Arab world. Iran, Turkey and Europe are the next biggest contributors.
Syria’s tourism sector is seeing a growing number of visitors from the Arab world, from Syrian expatriates, and other foreigners. These groups constitute 50 per cent, 36 per cent and 14 per cent of visitors respectively. The country currently has a higher average annual growth of visitor numbers than tourism-oriented countries in the region like Egypt, Turkey or Jordan.
While Egypt experienced 11.1 per cent, Jordan 10.8 per cent, and Turkey 11.1 per cent average annual growth in tourist numbers between 1995 and 2005, Syria has seen 15.2 per cent growth in the same period. It is also above the world average in arrivals and tourism income per 1,000 capita (183 to 125 and $118 to $106), and well ahead of Iran (26/$17) and Egypt (106/$88).
However, in comparison to Turkey it still lags behind; Syria’s northern neighbor has 291 visitors per 1,000 people and $261 tourism income per capita. However, Jordan, a smaller country, has succeeded in achieving higher visitor numbers and receipts per head (519/$250)
Syrian hotels have high occupancy rates, and hotels are struggling to accommodate the increasing number of visitors due to a shortage in hotel accommodation, especially of five and four star hotels. Due to such high number of visitors (expected to reach 3.65 million in 2007), and the limited capacity of tourist infrastructure, there has been parallel rise in investment in the tourism industry.
According to Syria’s ministry of tourism, the value of tourism investments being implemented and those which are expected to be executed within the coming years reached $2.4 billion in 24 projects.
The new tourism investments will provide 45,000 job opportunities till 2011, the ministry says, and this requires new sites of investment to train and rehabilitate cadres who will enter work markets in the new facilities.
The growth in visitor numbers indicates Syria is becoming a popular tourism destination in the region. While it lags behind neighbours in terms of infrastructure, projects are in the pipeline to address this deficit, and the sector is benefiting from the ongoing political crisis in Lebanon. Links with its traditional Arab market are strong, though increasing numbers of visitors from Iran and Europe indicate the potential the country has to offer.
(Jason J Nash is head of research at the Oxford Business Group)
By Jason J Nash