By Tareq Neman
Syria, the wonderland. The land of the most important and creative civilizations; Assyrians, Phoenicians, Christians and Muslims, all of them have left unique gifts and ruins as evidence of the great history and to teach modern civilizations how they should build the future.
Driving around Syria is the most amazing adventure a civilized man can have. Great nature, romantic forces of nature; Syria has amazing features that make it an awesome country, having the mountains, rivers, seasides and deserts all together, including a moderate climate.
M.D. (manager in a tourist company) said: “Syria is a great country. We have thousands of tourists every year, from all around the world except from some states that have restricted access into Syria, we don’t know why. We as a tourist company know very well that Syria has great places to visit, if I can say. We have the religious tours, the historical tours and the entertainment tours and everyone who works in the touring domain of Syria is depending on the religious and historical tours. We as a company have some problems and difficulties. I will talk about the problems first. Tourists suffer from the bad services that are provided at historical places, as for example in Apamia; the tourists can’t find any place to rest and to have good food. There is only one place and it is not good enough to welcome neither the tourists nor the local people. It is just like a pit stop.”
T.V. (a manager in a tourist company): “I know every detail about Syrian ancient places. 70% of them are not ready to hospitably receive tourists. We are suffering from unorganized services. For example, in Krak des Chevaliers we can’t arrange full and complete investment. There are no restaurants that we can rely on to show the real face of Syria. I think there must be more restaurants and pit stops. This could be subordinated to the Ministry of Tourism, who could make this beneficial to the place, as well as develop the Krak des Chevaliers and spend money to clean it and improve it with more services. Another problem is the lack of motels in Syria. Since we depend on religious tourism and historical tourism, which is limited to specific months, the high season in Syria is a disaster; we won’t be able to do any more bookings for new tourists, which means that we are losing visitors and money.”
R.S. (reservation clerk) said: “Actually I don’t find any problems with official services. We are very satisfied, but we have had some notices from visitors about the insufficiency of the tourism police; some of them ignore the problem of unlicensed tour guidance, which shows the bad face of Syria because some unlicensed guides might be not qualified enough to do what they are supposed to do. This will make the tourists angry or unsatisfied. Another complaint is about the peddlers that invade the historical sites and sell cheap stuff. Actually we –in Syria- don’t have real four stars hotels because the quality of the four stars hotels is the same as that of the five stars hotels. For example, we have the Blue Tour Hotel, which consists of 100 rooms, Armetage Hotel which consists of 50 rooms and Omayyad Hotel which consists of 40 rooms. This means Syria has less than 200 rooms accounting for a four stars hotel, which shows a serious obstacle for the middle class tourist.
We –In syria – don’t have a specific promotional program to show others the benefits of visiting Syria as the Turkish and Malaysians do. They invade the world by their advertisements. By the way, I have to say that the Turkish have used very smart promotion, which succeeded in attracting tourists and decreasing the amount of the tourists that may come to Syria. The problem is that we don’t have international tourism fairs.”
S.H. (a tourism company owner) explained: “We all know that the Ministry of Tourism is doing its best to improve and support the reality of the tourism in Syria, and we can notice the great process that tourism is witnessing these days, but actually we have some, or let us say many question marks about the tourism trends in the country, as everybody can notice that foreign people consider Syria as the place of historical and religious site only, while we have the constituents to be the most important place for leisure tourism. We have sulfur springs that can help to heal many human body problems and we have the ability to offer resorts for Pelotherapy, as places for relaxation and recreation. We have great beaches and mountains. Imagine that we don’t have chairlifts in Syria! We are depending on historical, religious and summer tourism and ignoring the most lucrative and important kind of tourism; the leisure one. Also, we restrict some nationalities in visiting Syria, as the Pakistanis, Indians, South Africans and East Asians. We as the owners of tourism companies have assured that all tourists of such countries will leave Syria on the specific times they should, but no response. We don’t have direct airlines from or to the countries that are interested in Syria while we have the highest rates of visitors in Syria.”
Ezapella from Spain had a tour for three days in both Damascus and Aleppo. She said about that tour :” I had visited some Christian religious places such as the churches and monasteries which belong to Aramaic and Roman periods , I really was amazed by the greatness and magnificence of these ruins because I had never seen like these beautiful and important Christian landmarks elsewhere, here I could learn a lot about the history of my religion and it considered like a place of pilgrimage. Syria is very wonderful country and I’m surely going to come here again.
Another tourist Marie from France said: “I came to Syria with some friends. It was my first time here and didn’t have any information about the country. When we arrived at Damascus International Airport I was actually confused and surprised because it was not what I had expected. It was a very old building with no high-technological services and many complicated procedures. I spent a week wandering in many cities and loved the beauty of nature. People were so kind and nice with us, but we had some difficulties with the language because there are few people who speak French and English very well. I also noticed that many peddlers were settled at the tourist places, yelling loudly and the ancient castles and other ruins had no good services to go with the needs of the increasing number of tourists and the importance of these places.”
There are many meetings and visits of companies that serve Syria by arranging the tours to the country and all of them are suffering from almost the same problems, asking the same following questions:
Why don’t we have many tourist guides for the rare nationalities such as Chinese and Japanese, knowing that Syria has tens of qualified persons?
What are the reasons behind the restriction on certain nationalities to come to Syria? Can’t we issue a specific formula to ensure that the tourists will not escape and work in Syria?
Are there any future plans to establish direct flights to the countries in East Asia? And why don’t we have such flights till now?
Recreational tourism in Syria is not existent; it is limited to historical and religious tourism. Why is this, knowing that we have the ability to serve such kinds of classy tourism?
Why don’t we have promotional programs for Syria, as Turkey and Asian countries do?
Finally, we all know that the Ministry of Tourism has a new administration and very qualified people that make us very optimistic about the new future of tourism in Syria. We love Syria as our country and we want the other to experience the beauty of Syria, because when they experience it and are very well aware of it they will think many times before doing anything that may damage or threaten it.
We respect the current and recent efforts that have worked and will work to achieve the best for Syria.