For the first time since the start of the civil war, Dutch travel agency CultureRoad is responding to increased demand for trips to Syria. Jenny Southan reports

Why would anyone want to travel to a war zone for the fun of it? The civil war in Syria has been on-going for 11 years, leaving half a million people dead. So why is CultureRoad offering trips for tourists?

The company says that in the past, Syria was one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Middle East. Before the civil war broke out, about six million tourists visited the country every year, to see places such as Damascus, Aleppo, Crak des Chevaliers and the ancient site of Palmyra, which was almost completely destroyed by terrorist organisation IS.

Tourism came to an immediate standstill at the start of the civil war in March 2011. “While many destinations have been known as beautiful places to visit, they suddenly became associated with war,” says CultureRoad.

Now, the company says things have been “relatively peaceful” in most of Syria for almost five years, and tourism is slowly picking up again.

Rik Brinks, owner of CultureRoad says he has observed a “growing demand” among travellers to visit Syria. “Often our travelers want to experience what Syria is like nowadays. For years, the country was known as a tourist hotspot, and now you have a chance to experience most of these places to yourself. Our close contacts with local and experienced guides prove that it is possible to embark on this beautiful adventure,” he says.

The local Syrians also want to welcome tourists again, Brinks notes: “All over the country you are warmly welcomed, people are both curious and proud that tourists are returning to their country. Ofcourse, there is still a long way to go, but there are so many wonderful places to see with our highly skilled guides.”

Besides Syria, Brinks says there is a general interest in adventurous destinations (sometimes branded “dark tourism”). A good example is the Gen Z social media influencer Miles Routledge, who went to Afghanistan last year and had to be evacuated after the Taliban took control.

Brinks says: “Since the end of the latest Corona wave, we have noticed that many travellers have expressed interest to visit destinations where mass tourism has not yet arrived.

“With the destinations we bring you to, you can actually take photos without a huge crowd of other tourists in the background. And we notice that travellers are looking for that one undiscovered place for a truly unique experience. The pandemic has fueled this desire even more.”

What else can CultureRoad do to assist in the organisation of trips to Syria? A spokesperson told Globetrender: “We will arrange the security clearance, which is needed for the visa. You won’t have to go to the embassy for the Syrian visa.

“Our local guides are always in contact with the local police, in case there are any changes on the ground for the security. So far, we never had any issues, but it’s always good to be aware of it and to be flexible with it.”

Is it safe to travel to Syria?

The UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office advises against all travel to Syria. “British nationals in Syria should leave by any practical means.”

It says: “The situation in Syria remains volatile and dangerous owing to a decade of ongoing conflict and insecurity. The Syrian regime does not exercise control of parts of the country, notably in the north west where fighting has caused significant civilian casualties and displacement.

“Daesh, formerly known as ISIL, continues to operate as an insurgency and conducts regular attacks, especially in north east Syria and other terrorist groups are also active. Throughout Syria, local security situations are fragile and can deteriorate into armed clashes without warning.

“Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Syria. Continued attacks across Syria including in major cities, have left large numbers of people dead or injured.

“There is also a very high threat of kidnapping throughout Syria. There have been a number of kidnappings, including of British nationals and other Westerners, by Daesh and other groups.”