Travel agencies

Tourism after trauma: travel agencies in Europe are considering Syrian stays


According to some European travel agencies, it doesn’t matter. “Biblical cities, ancient cultures and mouth-watering delicacies,” boasts Berlin-based Soviet Tours, a company known for its trips to the former Soviet bloc that offers trips to Syria in 2022. “After years ravaged by civil war, Syria is slowly starting to return to a level of normality not seen in years, ”another Berlin company, Rocky Road Travel, explained on its website.

Among the Syrian tours that Rocky Road is offering for next year, one is already booked and more are being added “due to demand,” company founder Shane Horan told DW. “People are really curious and they are clearly ready to see the country for themselves… regardless of the headlines and rhetoric.” Tourist visas for Syria have been available for group travel since 2018, and a number of Chinese and Russian tour operators have already announced trips there. Today, China’s Young Pioneer Tours, best known for taking visitors to North Korea, is also booking trips to Syria for early 2022. Part of the reason for the current excitement is that after a hiatus About 18 months linked to the pandemic, the Syrian government resumed issuing tourist visas in early October.

The agencies all stress that they do not approach areas where there may still be fighting. Most of the companies offering Syrian tourism are described as tailor-made adventure travel operators. Often their list of destinations also includes places like North Korea, Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Unsurprisingly, groups like the Washington-based Syrian Center for Justice and Accountability (SJAC) disagree. In a July 2021 update, they argued that the Syrian government, led by dictator Bashar Assad, was using the new tourism surge to do two things. First, the Syrian government wants to bring foreign currency into the country. They need it to trade with the rest of the world, but this is now mostly blocked by international sanctions. “Since it is impossible for tourists to exchange their money for Syrian pounds outside the country, the government can rely on travelers to transport money into the country,” SJAC wrote. The danger is therefore that tourism “effectively finances Assad’s military campaigns, including against civilians.”

Tourism is also a valuable source of income. Before the civil war started in 2011, it accounted for up to 10% of Syria’s gross domestic product. According to World Bank statistics for 2010, the country had more than 10 million visitors and international tourism worth around $ 6.3 billion.

The Syrian authorities have resumed recording the number of visitors in 2016. These have more than doubled in three years, from around 1.04 million in 2016 to 2.42 million in 2019. It is unclear how many these visitors were Europeans, although it is clear that the proportion is’ the thigh. Even if each tour of the aforementioned agencies sells out sold out and has between eight and 20 people per trip next year, for example, that wouldn’t add up to more than around 400 people for the whole of 2022.

Second, SJAC wrote, the Syrian government is also using tourism in an attempt to rehabilitate its international image. International human rights organizations regularly condemn the Syrian government for the bombing of hospitals and schools, as well as the torture of hundreds of prisoners, the siege of famine in entire cities and the diversion of humanitarian aid . But tourists won’t see any of this.

This article has been supplied by Deutsche Welle