Saadallah Agha al-Qalaa, Syria’s tourism minister, said on Monday: “We can say with confidence that 2005 was a good year on two fronts: tourism from Arab and European countries as well as investments … even though it has not been an easy year.”
More than 3.1 million tourists, mostly Arabs, visited Syria in the first 11 months of 2005, Agha al-Qalaa said.They generated 108.4 billion Syrian pounds ($2.08 billion), he said. Last year, 2.8 million people visited Syria, generating around $2 billion.
An investigation by the United Nations has implicated senior Syrian officials in the murder of Rafik al-Hariri, a former Lebanese prime minister, in Beirut in February. The assassination caused a local and international outcry that prompted Syria to end its 29-year military presence in its smaller neighbour.
Relations between the two countries have been tense since the withdrawal in April.
The inquiry’s interim findings prompted a UN Security Council resolution threatening Damascus with unspecified action if it fails to co-operate fully with its investigations.
Agha al-Qalaa said the number of Lebanese tourists had dropped 25% this year. “If the Lebanese had continued visiting in the same numbers, we would have seen an overall increase of 15% to 16% in our tourism,” he said.
The number of European tourists reached around 800,000 in the first 11 months of 2005, a 26% increase on the whole of last year.
Syria has a wealth of Roman ruins, crusader castles, and religious sites. Agha al-Qalaa said that next year he would announce projects to develop five archaeological sites and parts of the Mediterranean coast.