Syria’s Tourism Ministry is seeking to develop domestic tourism in peaceful parts of the country to the west to help recover losses from 3 1/2 years of war.

Domestic tourism has grown 300 percent this year and the government plans to offer incentives to help boost the sector, Tourism Minister Bishr al-Yazigi said in an interview yesterday. Syrian, as well as Iranian and Russian investors, are exploring opportunities in government-controlled areas, according to the minister.

“We’re betting on the tourism sector becoming a major support for the economy,” he said.

Foreign tourism made up 14 percent of Syria’s gross domestic product in 2010 and was bringing in about $8 billion a year, Yazigi said. Last year, some 465,000 tourists visited the country, down from the 8 million before fighting started in 2011, he said.

Syria’s conflict has evolved into a civil war that led to the emergence of the Islamic State in April 2013 following its break from the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front. The Islamist groups and other rebel factions control large areas of the country in the north and east. U.S.-led air strikes began targeting the Islamic State in Syria this week, with attacks hitting oil refineries the group controls.

The violence has killed over 190,000 people and displaced millions of Syrians, most of them to the safer western areas. It has also led to the closure of 380 tourist facilities and the scrapping of 400 projects, Yazigi said.

More than 150,000 people have lost their jobs as a result, he added.

To contact the reporter on this story: Donna Abu-Nasr in Beirut at To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alaa Shahine at 

Tags: syria, tourism
Photo Credit: The Umayyad Mosque in Damascus is the only one of six UNESCO sites that has not been damaged in the civil war. Arian Zwegers / Flickr