Syria’s almost nine-year conflict is far from over but that is not stopping a new wave of western tourists from visiting.
As President Bashar al-Assad tightens his grip on the remains of the opposition in the north-west, a handful of tour companies and travel bloggers catering to English-language customers have started running bespoke trips to the country to “mingle with locals while also passing destroyed villages”, visit archeological sites “shrouded in a coat of destruction” and “experience the famous cosmopolitan nightlife that has returned to the centre of Damascus”.
At least 500,000 people have been killed in the war and more than half Syria’s pre-war population of 22 million people have fled their homes.
As Assad has slowly regained control, the perception in some quarters is that the country is once again open for business – including the once-lucrative tourism sector.
Travel to Syria is advised against by almost every government in the world on safety grounds, and Syrians who have paid a high price in the war urge westerners not to normalise relations with the regime.
Yet despite the occasional car bomb, Israeli airstrikes and secret police who “disappear” suspected spies and opposition members into Assad’s prisons, Damascus is now relatively safe, and hardcore adventure tourist interest in a country that has been off limits for nearly a decade is growing.
Visiting places associated with death and tragedy is generally referred to as dark tourism. Holidaying in countries still technically at war, however, is a relatively new phenomenon, fuelled by social media influencers on a quest to conquer forbidden destinations or tick off all 195 countries in the world. [Continue reading…]