Syrian tourist numbers up 55%


DAMASCUS — The number of visitors to Syria for the first seven months of this year has risen by 55 percent compared to the same period last year, the tourism ministry said on Wednesday.

Some 5.1 million tourists arrived in Syria during the first seven months of this year, compared to 3.3 million over the same period in 2009, according to ministry figures.

It said this year’s visitors included 2.9 million Arabs, 1.3 million other foreigners and 912,000 Syrians living abroad, in total raising tourist revenues of 4.7 billion dollars (3.6 billion euros).

The increase in visitors was attributed to “the successful foreign policy pursued by Syria,” the cancellation of visas for Turkish and Iranian citizens and “the tourism campaigns launched during the past two years,” local media quoted the ministry as saying.

In 2009, six million tourists visited Syria, generating 5.2 billion dollars (4 billion euros). The tourism sector accounted for 11.2 percent of the gross domestic product.

Syria offers a number of tourist attractions, such as the ancient cities of Damascus and Aleppo, archaeological sites in the city of Ugarit where the world’s first alphabet was discovered, the Roman ruins of Palmyra and the stunning Fortress of the Knights Crusader castle.