Syria’s tourism up 12%


Tourist numbers in Syria rose 12% last year from 2008 levels, with Arabs accounting for the bulk of visitors, government statistics showed.

Syria, which contains several important sites of antiquity, including the ancient city of Palymra, received around six million tourists, including 1.1 million Syrian expatriates and 3.6 million Arabs, in 2009, the state media said.

The government deems almost any foreigner who enters to be a tourist, a practice criticised by industry specialists as misleading.

Syria has been under US sanctions since 2004 for its support of militant groups, but relations with the West have improved and Washington is seeking a rapprochement.

The ruling Baath Party has taken steps to liberalise the economy after decades of nationalisation and bans on private enterprise.

In the last few years new hotels have been built, mainly in Damascus and Aleppo, but fewer of them are of international quality than in neighbouring Lebanon or Jordan, which have put more resources into developing their tourism sector.