Syria woos tourists

Al Kallaa (right) with Egyptian tourism minister Dr Mamdouh El Beltagui at the MTF 2002.

The Syrian government has launched several new initiatives to boost tourism in the country.

Stressing the importance of the Arab tourist to Syria, Tourism Minister Dr Saadalla Agha Al Kallaa said at the recent Mediterranean Travel Fair in Cairo that 75 per cent of tourists were from Arab countries.

"They identify with our culture and enjoy the beauty of our country," he said.

"The number of Arab tourists has increased 27 per cent to date as compared to last year."

Syria is now embarking on a programme to boost tourism from Europe, which currently stands only at 10 per cent, Al Kallaa said.

"We are campaigning strongly to increase tourism from Europe. We are hopeful that the numbers will increase in the near future," he said.

"We plan to open five new offices in Europe next year to promote Syria. This includes London, Paris and Rome.

"We have made the visa obtaining facilities easier for visitors from Europe. Tourists can get visas at the airport if they contact their tour operators the day before they arrive.

"They can also use the Internet to contact tour operators and get the visa process moving quickly."

Syria has also signed agreements with Spain, Italy, Cyprus and Turkey to promote mixed products.

"Some things are common with these countries. For example, a visitor can take in the Roman ruins in Italy and do the same in Syria. They get an insight into the Ummayed period both in Syria and Spain."

The minister said Syria is also offering investors who want build hotels the possibility of buying the land for the project.

The country has also increased cultural activities to bring in visitors.

"We are targeting families, particularly from the Arab world. We have festivals, singing and special programmes for children," Al Kallaa said.

"Visitors from Europe must come and see the good conditions in Syria. Syria is a safe country.

"Tourists can walk even at 2am safely. Syria as safe as any country in Europe."