Fighting ruins tourism in Syria

With the civil war taking a turn for the worse and no side seemingly in control, tourism has become a major casualty in the Syria conflict.

The city of Damascus in Syria was a huge attraction to heritage tourists because the city is believed to be the oldest, continuously inhabited city in the world. But although international flights had been coming and going from the city’s airport during the 20-months of fighting, they have now ceased to operate, putting a huge strain on tourism and related activities.

As the fighting between troops loyal to Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad and the rebels has intensified, airline operators who had felt relatively secure are now thinking twice about operating their services. The situation took a turn for the worse when government jets bombed rebel positions close to the airport, prompting operators to cancel their services. Even though EgyptAir announced on Sunday that it would resume flights to Damascus, it has not followed through on the promise. With the carrier reluctant to operate, daily flights between Cairo and Damascus have been affected.

With the fight between opposite forces intensifying in a war that has left 40,000 Syrians dead, it is only natural that tourism has been a major casualty. Tourism was responsible for 5 percent of Syria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2011, and it directly supported 270,000 jobs. The inflow of tourists into the nation was high because Arab tourists do not need visas to visit Syria. It is estimated that more than three million Arabs traditionally arrive annually for family visits or to satisfy business needs.

Syria was a hub for tourists looking for heritage travel. The nation boasts 3,000 archaeological sites, and from those nations located close by, tourists could easily reach Syria, go for a sightseeing tour and return on the same day. Europe was also a large tourism base for the nation, and during peak seasons 10,000 to 12,000 tourist packages used to be sold in Europe every year. With the war intensifying, such visits have ceased and hotels are near to closure. With nations including America issuing stern warnings against travel to the nation, tourism is unlikely to be on Syria’s agenda in the near future.