Turkish travel company launches tours to government-held areas of Syria
A Turkish travel agency said it will relaunch trips to areas of Syria held by the Syrian government from April 2024, which will be days after the country marks 13 years since the outbreak of the revolution against President Bashar al-Assad.
“Syria has reopened to tourism after a long, devastating and tiring war,” Fest travel agency said on its website.
A company representative told Middle East Eye that currently there are no direct flights between Turkey and Syria, which led the travel agency to choose flights between Istanbul and Beirut, where the company would take the Turkish tourists to Syria by car.
The company said it will also facilitate Syria land border security clearance, entry visa approval and a special permit to enter Palmyra, a spectacular Roman city in the desert of Homs province.
Fest Travel general manager Zekeriya Sen told MEE the company began operating tours to Syria in 2001, and claimed it was the first company to organise comprehensive cultural trips. Sen said the tour used to be a bestseller before the outbreak of the ongoing Syrian war forced them to stop.
The Syrian government became a pariah in 2011, when it attacked peaceful pro-democracy demonstrators and sparked a civil war that has claimed some 500,000 lives and displaced half of Syria's population. In recent years, however, Damascus has made diplomatic inroads and rejoined the Arab League in May.
Relations between Ankara, which backs the Syrian opposition, and Damascus have also warmed, though relations remain strained and full normalisation of ties is not imminent. Turkish troops are present in rebel-held areas of Syria's north.
“It is an important chance to evaluate the impact of the war, especially. We've also added new activities to further enrich our itinerary,” he told MEE. “We also offer a tailor-made dining experience for travellers. Our guests will taste the most delicious dishes of Syrian cuisine and learn cooking techniques.”
Fest Travel's website says a tour for seven days between 20-27 April 2024 will cost $1,950 per person and include stays at five-star hotels in Damascus, Bursa, Palmyra and Aleppo.
'Travelling to a country that has had a war recently can only be done by people who truly have this excitement and passion in their hearts'
- Zekeriya Sen, Fest Travel
Sen added that even though there is already a high interest in the tour, they decided to do it next April instead of September to accommodate more people.
Asked about possible security issues, Sen said they closely monitor the situation to protect their guests, following a protocol used by the other foreign tourists and tour companies operating in Syria.
“Of course, travelling to a country that has had a war recently and whose traces have not been erased yet can only be done by people who truly have this excitement and passion in their hearts,” he said.
In recent months a wave of influencers from the West and Turkey have begun visiting government-held areas of Syria, promoting the idea of normalcy when the country remains divided and impoverished, with pro-Assad bombings on rebel-held northwestern Idlib commonplace and Islamic State group sleeper cells remaining a danger.
Assad's forces and his allies have effectively reconquered the country's largest urban centres, leaving rebel groups in the northwest and Syrian Kurds retaining autonomy in the northeast. In government-held areas, economic malaise has created deep discontent.