x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Syria: Tough times ahead for a struggling industry

Syria Sanctions: Tourism, which Syria was focusing on to diversify its economy, will be hit hard by the proposed sanctions.

Tourists walk around Al-Azem Palace that houses the museum of arts and popular traditions in the Old City of Damascus, Syria. AP Photo/Ola Rifai
Tourists walk around Al-Azem Palace that houses the museum of arts and popular traditions in the Old City of Damascus, Syria. AP Photo/Ola Rifai

The tourism industry in Syria, already suffering from the violence across the country, will be hit hard by the sanctions that include a halt to all commercial flights.

Until the violence began Syria was enjoying a resurgence in its tourism industry.

The effects of the sanctions could spread across the border to Lebanon and Jordan.

"The current situation presents all the conditions that are adverse for the hospitality industry: stalled international leisure tourism; reduced business travel and tourism," said Chiheb ben Mahmoud, the senior vice president at Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels, Middle East and Africa. "It is undoubtedly an extremely difficult time for the hospitality industry in Syria, especially because the winter season is usually the tour season in the region - Syria, Jordan and Lebanon."

Hotel investors and operators had been looking at Syria as an attractive destination for expansion before the unrest, with a number of hospitality projects announced over the past couple of years.

Abu Dhabi's Rotana Hotels operates two hotels in Syria, in Damascus and Latakia, and there are two further Rotana hotels under development in the country. Jumeirah Group, a luxury hospitality operator based in Dubai, last year signed an agreement with Souria Holding to manage a hotel under development in Damascus.

The developers Emaar and Majid Al Futtaim had also announced plans to build hotels in Syria.

Analysts estimate occupancy levels have fallen to below 30 per cent compared to the mid-70 per cent range last year. The country was a growing tourism destination and tourist arrivals had doubled in the past decade, according to a report this year by HVS, a hospitality services company.

Syria's rich culture and history, as well as its beaches, mountains, lakes and forests, means it has the natural attributes that could make the country a prime destination in politically stable conditions.

rbundhun@thenational.ae

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