The international airport in Damascus. Photo: Joseph Eid | AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — The Syrian Minister of Tourism has said he will be visiting the Kurdistan Region’s capital of Erbil and the Iraqi capital of Baghdad in the near future in an attempt to re-invigorate his portion of his nation’s economy.
“I will visit Baghdad and then Erbil in order to strengthen tourism ties,” the Syrian minister of tourism Bshr Yaziji told Rudaw.
There are currently weekly flights between Erbil and Damascus, as well as Sulaimani and Damascus.
“Opening direct flights between Damascus and the Kurdistan Region is the first step and stage of supporting and reactivating the steps of tourism for a near future,” explained the minister.
Currently, there are two weekly flights between Sulaimani and Damascus arranged by Ajnaha al-Sham Company and Fly Damas Company.
“Tourism plays a big role in bringing nations socially closer to one another, in a way people can be become more acquainted with each other’s cultures. It also has an important role in terms of trade and economy,” Yaziji said.
Direct commercial flights between Damascus, Erbil and Sulaimani were halted because of the conflict in Syria, but resumed in May.
“Flights between Damascus and Baghdad have stopped at no time. The airliners of these two countries are fulfilling their duties very skillfully in spite of the crisis in Syria and Iraq. Damascus has direct flights to airports in Baghdad, Basra, Najaf and Karbala. Tourism and business groups too continuously use these lines,” Yaziji said.
Many people use these two airliners on a weekly basis, especially Syrian investors in Erbil and Sulaimani, according to officials from these two companies.
And Yaziji believes there is still more opportunity for more airliners.
“Opening a new airline between Damascus and Iraq especially with the Kurdistan Region would have a positive impact on tourism and strengthening neighborly relations, and further reactivation of flights between Damascus, Erbil, Sulaimani, Baghdad and other Iraqi cities in the future,” the Syrian minister of tourism said.
The tourism sector in Syria is growing in spite of the internal conflict in the country. According to the figures produced by the Syrian ministry of tourism, 33 tourism investment companies have received licenses to do business this year, with most of the projects being in Damascus, Laziqia and Tartus.
“The tourism sector has been hurt badly because of the internal war in Syria over the past six years. It is clear that stability paves the way for the development of the tourism sector. In the past, local tourists were very active,” Yaziji said. “The tourism sector dropped by 41 percent during 2015 to 2017. The return of refugees will reinvigorate the tourism sector. But their non-return will have constant bad impact.”
The Syrian government aims to re-invigorate investment and trade as its six-year-long civil war continues.
“A big and special tourism investment panel will be arranged, which will include 500 important people internationally,” the Syrian minister explained. “The Syrian government has also planned to establish 2,000 new tourism projects. It has invited most of the famous international aviation companies to resume flights to Damascus and coastal areas in Syria.”