Syria’s Rebellion Not Hurting Tourism in Neighboring Countries
By James Ruggia
July 30, 2012 10:48 PM
Before the rebellion that began in March 2011, Syria was on its way to building a healthy tourism industry. In 2010, the country reported a 40 percent growth in arrivals coming mostly from other Arab nations. Syria borders some very important tourism destinations including Israel, Jordan and Turkey, all popular with Americans, as well as Lebanon and Iraq.
Tourism was being called the “new Syrian oil” as a plethora of hotels had begun to open with the promise held forth by such attractions as Palmyra, Damascus and Aleppo. In recent months, the situation in Syria has escalated to the point where at least 20,000 Syrians have died in the fighting and thousands more are pouring into Southeastern Turkey and Jordan.
Several tour operators who specialize in the region have said that the situation has had little or no impact on business to the region yet. According to Ronan Paldi of Y’alla Tours, “I watch it very closely because of my personal connection to the region, but it hasn’t hurt my business. I have a group in Jordan right now.”
“It’s not a problem for Turkey,” said Ebru Ejder, the director of New York’s Turkish Tourist Office. “Americans like to go to Istanbul, Bodrum, Cappadocia and other parts of Turkey that are hundreds of miles away from Syria. The part of Turkey that borders on Syria, our southeast, will one day be an important destination for American tourists, but not yet. All is well in Turkey.”
Koray Edeman, the president of Key Tours, said business has not been affected yet, but “I’m concerned that it may become so. Things are building up in Syria and they’re getting out of hand. We’ve had a great year, selling Turkey especially, but if the media coverage of Syria escalates it could hurt that business.”
Few today remember the days before World War II, when Syria was an essential part of the region’s most popular tourism itinerary. The tour was run by train from Istanbul to Cairo, calling at Lebanon, Israel (then British Palestine), Jordan, Syria and Egypt. “It was a classic seven-week experience,” said Paldi. “I’d love to see that itinerary come back, but it’s not possible now and the future in Syria, even if the regime falls (and that seems inevitable) will probably just mean internal war for the country as we see in Iraq.”
Thus far, the political turmoil of the Arab Spring has impacted the American traveler by compelling them to choose their destinations carefully within the Middle East, but not to avoid it altogether. The turmoil in Egypt has given Turkey a bumper year and even helped Greece as many tourists who might have gone to Egyptian Red Sea resorts have opted for the Greek Islands, or the Turquoise Coast instead.