Syrian tourism sector prepares for leap
A report by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) on prospects of the Syrian tourism sector said that Syria is raising its profile as a tourism destination with a combination of promotional efforts, building plans and deregulation.
As part of its effort to diversify away from dependence on oil, the government has launched a wide-ranging program to attract tourists, especially longer-staying and higher-spending ones.
Further, the government is speeding the issuing of permits to tour operators and visas to visitors, sponsoring construction of hotels and other tourism facilities and, along with the private sector, is aggressively promoting the country’s historical and natural attractions.
According to the EIU, this policy has yielded positive results in Syria’s main tourist destinations as the number of Arab visitors increased by around 10 percent to 883,000 in the first half of 2000 and non-Arab tourist arrivals grew by 43 percent to 89,000 on a yearly basis. Revenues from tourism have exceeded one billion dollars per year over the past few years.
The Syrian government has adopted a 20-year tourism development plan, providing tax breaks and other incentives to investors, and promised sponsors of private tourism projects to process their application permits within 15 days compared to a current waiting period of several months.
It has also made plans to ease entry to Syria by allowing foreign nationals with a Lebanese tourist visa to enter Syria and vice versa. Some 80 percent of visitors to Syria come from other Arab states and a large proportion of those visitors cross the border from Lebanon or Jordan for shopping and entertainment and return home the same day. Further, an estimated 55 percent of international visitors touring Syria also travel to Jordan and Lebanon.
However, the government is trying to promote projects that will attract long-staying tourists in order to put Syria on the map as a world-class tourist destination. The Syrian tourism ministry has allocated $100 million during the past summer to build 13 new hotels in Northern Damascus and earmarked additional funds to build roads to major historical sites.
Additionally, a number of private investors plan to develop several hotel and resorts across the country. Such projects include the building of the Four Seasons Hotel in Damascus, the development of a chain of three-or four-star hotels near major historic sites by the biggest Syrian-owned hotel group, the Syrian Cham Place &Hotels, as well as other joint Saudi-Syrian tourist ventures.
Also,Hilton International, Sheraton Hotels and the US Starwood Group have all announced new Syrian projects. — (Lebanon Invest)
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