Middle East eyes tourists from China

Countries are preparing special travel campaigns to attract more visitors

Chinese tourists arrive at the theme park Ferrari World Abu Dhabi in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates, Feb 7, 2023. (PHOTO / XINHUA)

The Middle Eastern countries looking to rehabilitate tourism are seeking greater exchanges with China amid its deepening engagements with the region.

Travel industry professionals and government officials participating at the 30th edition of the Arabian Travel Market, or ATM, in Dubai, told China Daily that they hoped more attention could be given to establishing direct flights between China — a new market — and their countries, as the focus on sustainable tourism becomes vital to the region.

Deputy Minister of Tourism of Syrian Arab Republic Nedal Machfej said they are now preparing a plan to approach the Chinese market with the assistance of the Syrian embassy and tour operators in China. This would involve having some kind of Syrian days in Beijing and other major Chinese cities. The signing of contracts, in the next three months, would launch the movement of tourism from China to Syria.

He also noted that not having direct flights is "one of the difficulties that are facing overseas destinations", so they are in talks with Syrian airlines and private companies to explore joint ventures with other airlines to cope with the future demand.

"Because of the war and because of the sanctions that my country has suffered, we consider the ATM as one of the biggest tourism opportunities for Syria to regain the tourism movements to Syria from the Gulf countries. The Ministry of Tourism is aiming to host new markets, especially (since) we consider China as one of our promising markets," said Machfej.

"We are now preparing campaigns to China, Russia, Iran, to other neighboring countries, so, it's the beginning and we hope that maybe in the next year, we (would hit) 2 million visitors," he added.

In April, Syrian Minister of Tourism Mohammed Rami Martini announced an uptick in visitor numbers, with 385,000 arrivals in the first quarter of 2023. Of these, 345,000 are from Arab countries, while 40,000 are foreigners, according to newspaper Asharq Al Awsat.

Hasan Raslan, public relations manager at Aleppo-based Silk Road Travel & Tourism, said "the most important and friendly" market "for our country are the Chinese people".

"We can design the tour as you want here in Silk Road Syria and we are going to work even more to recover our place in the Silk Road and the world position," Raslan told China Daily.

Showcasing heritage

He hoped that their participation in the exhibition would let people know more about the heritage and importance of Syria and its position on the Silk Road and the Belt and Road Initiative.

"Our message, as always, is that Syria is a country of safe and safety, the country of culture, the country of harmony … so all of these are joined on one land. This is Syria. Our message is peace, that we are regaining our position as one of the most important tourism destinations in the area," said Machfej.

A spokesperson for the Association of Travel & Tourism Agents in Iraq, which makes up more than 800 travel agencies, said that as Iraq is becoming more sustainable for tourism, they are looking to expand their businesses in the sector.

"We hope that people from all around the world, especially from China, would come to visit us as the world is opening up," said the spokesperson.

Fatima Ahmed, managing director at Ibn Firnas Travel and Tourism, noted that as sustainable tourism is becoming an increasingly important trend in the Middle East region, the Chinese market thirsty for experiential tourism could contribute to local communities and give their livelihood a boost.