TURKISH TOURISTS TO SYRIA MORE THAN DOUBLED IN 2010
- Published:14 Ocak 2011, Cuma
- Updated:19 Ocak 2011, Çarşamba
Improved ties with Turkey and expanding international airline links will push the number of tourists coming to Syria up by 40 percent this year, Tourism Minister Saadallah Agha al-Qalaa said on Thursday.
Syria, which has several notable archaeological sites including the desert cities of Palmyra and Dora Europos, has enjoyed a tourism boom in the last three years as the government lifted bans on investment to try to reverse decades of economic malaise under the ruling Baath Party.
Qalaa expected Syria to receive 8.5 million tourists in 2011 who will spend $8.2 billion. He said arrangements being discussed with Ankara would allow tourists who enter Turkey to cross into Syria without a Syrian visa in advance.
"We expect to finalise this year an agreement to cover tourists who come in groups," Qalaa told Reuters in an interview after meeting his Turkish counterpart Ertugrul Gunay in Damascus.
The two countries were foes for decades since France awarded the province of Alexandretta to Turkey when Syria was under French colonial occupation in the 1930s. Ankara and Damascus mended ties in the last five years as Syria's ruling hierarchy sought to counter isolation by the West.
Qalaa has been criticised in the government controlled Syrian media for using a broad definition of what constitutes a tourist, but he said the category conforms to international standards of arrivals spending at least one night.
Turkish tourists coming to Syria more than doubled to 1.5 million in 2010, a year after the two countries abolished visa requirements between them, he said.
"Removing the visas was a watershed decision. The two governments are now encouraging routes by which tourists would travel seamlessly between the two countries," Qalaa said.
Qalaa pointed to Turkey's drive to promote sites close to its 800 km (500 mile) border with Syria, such as the Turkish culinary capital of Gaziantep, where a new mosaic museum is being built.
Gaziantep is only 100 km (62 miles) from the great Syrian city of Aleppo, which declined after it was cut off from its natural hinterland in Turkey following the collapse of the Ottoman empire and the ensuing animosity between the Syrian and Turkish states.
Qalaa dismissed criticism that Turkey, whose economy is 10 times as big as Syria and received 28 million tourists last year, will be the major winner from expanding tourism links.
He said Turkish carriers, which now fly several times a day to Damascus, were leading international demand for routes to Damascus that will help tourism.
"The more flights the more potential tourists into Syria. It will not be only Syrians who will fill the seats," he said.
Adverts, such as one running in London with slogan "Syria: come see for yourself", and less isolation by the West are attracting lucrative tourism.
Experts say Syria's archaeological sites, from the Bronze age site of Qatna to the famed crusader castle of Krak des Chevaliers, are of huge interest.
But independent economists have said that more tourism does not equate with development and that Syria, which has been ruled by the Baath Party since it took power in a 1963 coup, faces mounting economic challenges and a crisis in managing its water resources.
Syria also remains under U.S. sanctions for the government's support for militant groups, despite better ties with Washington under President Barack Obama and the restoration of a U.S. ambassador, who is expected to arrive in Damascus this month.
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