Syria's tourism minister wants tourists to come back

Damascus, in 2005, the last time the country experienced a tourism boom. Photo / Getty Images
Damascus, in 2005, the last time the country experienced a tourism boom. Photo / Getty Images

It might be embroiled in a bloody civil war, under partial siege by one of the world's deadliest terror groups and have its tourist attractions in ruins, but Syria has big plans to woo tourists back.

As a devastating civil war that has so far displaced more than 10 million Syrians continues into its fifth year, Syria's ambitious minister for tourism been talking up his country's potential as a holiday destination for international visitors.

This is despite the fact that many governments, including New Zealand, advise their citizens to stay well clear of Syria - which was this week named the most dangerous country in the world - due to ongoing conflict, kidnappings and terrorist attacks.

But Tourism Minister Bushr Yazedji remains optimistic, perhaps especially so after Syrian and Russian forces recaptured the ancient city of Palmyra, famous for its historical monuments, from IS jihadists in March.

"After the liberation of some of our cities, which once used to be major touristic highlights, we noticed that their residents were willing to revitalise local tourism," Mr Yazedji told Russian news agency Sputnik.

The minister spoke of the need for huge investment, including from Russia, to help revitalise Syria's flailing tourism sector.

He said he hoped to soon welcome tourists from Russia, China, Iran, South Africa, among other countries.

A Syrian police officer looks at German tourists as he walks past at the walls of the Old Town in Damascus in 2005. Photo / Getty Images
A Syrian police officer looks at German tourists as he walks past at the walls of the Old Town in Damascus in 2005. Photo / Getty Images

"We have already met with these countries' ambassadors who were enthusiastic about the business proposals we made," Yazedji said.

"We offered several investment-attractive projects for Russian companies, primarily concerning traditional places of pilgrimage in Syria with Damascus to serve as a starting point from where pilgrims will move on to Jerusalem, Amman and other places."

Mr Yazedji said the tourism ministry had worked with the World Tourism Organisation to set up an agency to guarantee the security of foreign tourists and investors in Syria, Sputnik reported.

It is unknown what Syria's more detailed plans for revitalising tourism would be.

Syria's tourism industry has been crippled since civil war engulfed the country in 2011.

The Arc de Triomph monument, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was destroyed by IS jihadists in October 2015. Photo / iStock
The Arc de Triomph monument, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was destroyed by IS jihadists in October 2015. Photo / iStock

All six of the country's UNESCO World Heritage Sites have been either destroyed or severely damaged, including Palmyra's 2000-year-old archaeological site Arch of Triumph, a former tourist hotspot that was destroyed by IS in October last year

The 2000-year-old Temple of Bel, Ampamea in Hama, Tell Merdikh in Idlib and the Dura-Europos and Mari sites in Deir el-Zour have also been destroyed.

Despite the conflict, in December last year operators of Syria's beach resorts said they were still attracting tourists, such as near Tartous on the country's Mediterranean coast.

That month Russian travel agency Megapolis Kurort reportedly filed an application to start taking holiday-makers on five-day tours of the war-torn country.

Palmyra's Roman Theatre. Photo / iStock
Palmyra's Roman Theatre. Photo / iStock

But before you book a flight to Aleppo or Damascus, just a reminder that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade advises that New Zealanders do not travel to Syria. That's the highest travel advisory level issued by the New Zealand government.

The New Zealand government has also urged its citizens already in Syria to leave immediately.

- news.com.au

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