Displacement Tourism Revives Hotels in Light of Rigged Stats

The number of displaced Syrians in the first wave of exodus has surpassed 300 thousand persons from Homs according to non-official reports. They resided along the Homs-Damascus road starting from Qara, Nabk and Deir Ateya to Damascus’s countryside in Sayeda Zainab all the way to Damascus’s hotels and furnished apartments which were occupied by the rich and well-off class of Homs. The wave of exodus continued from all over Syria to Damascus and later on from one Damascene neighborhood to another as well from the countryside to the city after the regime’s bombardment on neighborhood such as Midan, Jobar, Daraya, and the Yarmouk Camp. With every wave, the displaced are classified based on their financial status starting with those who occupied the public parks to those who stayed in hotels.

 

 

 

Exclusive for the Syrian Business Forum. Prepared on August 26th 2012 

“Empty hotel rooms is an indicator of a bad season, not only in this hotel, but in most of the hotels in Damascus”, says Fatima Abdullazziz- a 24 year old receptionist. She adds: “There were many nights were I felt so lonesome in this big Damascene-house style hotel“ up until past February with the first wave of exodus that started in Homs as a result of the brutal military campaign, where rooms started to fill with families who came with their bags and suitcases from neighborhoods like Insha’at, Mahata, Wadi Alsayeh and Baba Amro. Cars with Homs plate were seen parked in many of Damascus’ streets.

The Displaced Guest

Those people were not treated as displaced people but rather as hotel guests which was the investors’ excuse to mask the decline in their business. Elias George, one of the investors in the hotels sector says:”The displaced from Homs and other conflict zones have somewhat made it up for the losses the hotels had incurred, at least in breaking even after many hotels have decided to shut down in order to avoid further losses or having to switch their businesses to restaurants only.”

During their stay, the displaced had to negotiate the pricing and some hotel turned to charge on monthly bases whereas some other families rented furnished apartments and others left the country since the return to their home city was not feasible due to the worsening situation there and to the fact that most them had their houses destroyed or damaged.

Mr. Homam Mokhawal and his family came from the Homsi neighboorhood of Wadi Alsayeh, and were residents in one of the hotels in Damascus. He stresses that most of the Homsis who are staying in hotels are not well off as a big percentage of them have stayed in 2 or 3-stars hotels and other have either sold their wives’ gold or are spending their  modest savings to secure a safe roof over their heads.

He tried to look for a furnished apartment but the prices in the old section of Damascus, which is considered the safest, were very steep and ranged from $400 to $1000; so he decided to go back to his family’s house in Homs’ countryside after having stayed in a hotel for a while.

It is noticeable that the decline in the room prices in Damascus’ hotels was forced by the worsening season in light of the absence of out-of-the country tourists. The displaced guest was able to get a room in a 5-star hotel for $30 per night if he or she committed for a whole month and paid the full amount upfront in; the very same room rate used to be $180 per night before the events.

One of Homs’ businesswoman who has been staying in a well-known hotel in the Old Damascus said that she has got used to the hotel and no longer prefers to live in a luxurious apartment and that the death and destruction have pushed many to enjoy the life and its pleasures, especially in the old section of Damascus that remains unaffected by the situation as of yet.

Lack of Tourism Dollar Downing the Economy

The main problem of the Syrian economy comes from the collapsing Tourism sector, which is a major contributor to the state income, as well as the oil sector that has been affected on one hand by the European and American sanctions and the increase of the state spending on military institutions to quell the popular revolution throughout Syria on the other hand, according to the economic expert Mr. Abdullah Aldossari.

The Syrian Treasury losses from the Tourism sector exceeded $15 billion during 2011 and 2012 where the average expenditure rate now reached $90 million whereas it exceeded $1 billion in 2010 and $7.7 billion in proceeds coming from 8.5 million tourists in that year. The current drop is due mainly to the sever drop in European tourists which are the main market for Syrian Tourism. This has prompted a number of observers to confirm the entry of the Syrian economy in the “gray zone” within the stage of recession; at a time they warn of the "consequences" of the sharp decline in the tourism sector, which is approximately 23% of the total Syrian government revenues from foreign exchange, according to Al-Dosari. 

Rigging the Numbers

According to the statistics of the Syrian Ministry of Tourism, 350 thousand tourists have visited Syria since the beginning of 2012 which is a decline of 71% from the year before. Of these tourists, 33215 came from Asian countries, 49817 from Iran, 15013 from Europe, 3468 from the USA, and 203299 from neighboring countries. The night occupancy in Syrian hotel totaled 474536 nights with 82478 nights by tourists from Asian countries, 162376 from Iran, 6420 from the USA, 28939 from Europe. However, one of the Economic experts, who did not want his name published have said that the ministry numbers are not true and are over-exaggerated and that the real hotel occupants are the displaced Syrians themselves, and he asked:” How come we don’t see any of these tourists?”  

Lowest Decline Rate for Iraqi and Iranian Tourists

According to the statistics of the Ministry of Tourism, the biggest decline in tourists which reached 0% of visitors was in the tourists coming from the Arabic Gulf states in 2012. That have incurred a massive losses on the Tourism and hotel sector especially the entertainment industries since there was many clubs and summer restaurants that only catered to tourists from the Arab Gulf states, whereas Saudis prefer to stay in furnished apartment more than hotels.

The lowest decline rate was for tourists coming from Iraq with a decline of 19%, though these numbers are not clear since a large percentage of Iraqis in Syria are refugees and displaced and not tourists. As for the Iranian tourists, there was a decline of 38% of tourists despite their heavy presence of Iranians in Damascus.

Emergency Programs

The officials in the tourism sector, whether from the Federation of Chambers of Tourism or the Ministry of Tourism, do not have the audacity to admit that the tourism sector is collapsing, especially in Damascus, where the of occupancy has dropped to 25%, and in some cases to 10%, in the hotels that rely on domestic tourism with an expected sever continuing decline in the tourism demand in the coming months for the same reasons.

This situation has prompted the Federation of Chambers of Tourism to launch an emergency program that will offer what would enable the Syrian citizen to do tourism in Syria in accordance with some integrated programs and a discount rate of up to 50%.

In a move that is illegal but to compensate for their losses, some hotels are not listing the correct numbers of their customers on their tax records. They justify their doings by the lack of government support to their falling sector especially that the customer can no longer pay the government-set room charges which ranges between $40 and $200 for a double room.

 

Sayeda Zainab Hotels

The hotels in Sayeda Zainab, which are primarily specialized in religious tourism, are facing a deteriorating humanitarian situation, unlike the hotels in the city, as the owners of these hotels have requested their displaced guests to pay their share of the monthly utility bills which prompted the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour to demand the government to pay the electricity bills to ease the burden of the displaced Syrians and the hotel owners as well, however, the government main priority remains its military operations to quell the popular revolution.

Reforms on hold

It seems as though all the reform steps have been put aside till after the Syrian revolution since there is no longer quite zones all throughout Syria including resort towns such as Zabadani and Bloudan; and all what the hotels are doing is relying on the tourism of the displaced Syrians and the international and media delegations that visit the city to survive and avoid losses.

Lebanon Benefits from the Ordeal

The tourism sector in Lebanon was going into recession at the beginning of the Syrian revolution and before the exodus wave started and the Lebanese considered it as one of the worst tourism season in years since their sector relies heavily on the tourists from the Gulf States which have stopped coming to Lebanese due to the situation in Syria. However, once the conflict reached Damascus, the hotels in Lebanon started to get back to life, unlike the ones in Syria which were empty, as thousands of Syrians fled to Lebanon over night which has revived the hotels and furnished apartments in Bhamdoon, Jonieh, Zaitoneh and Sharee Al Hamra; the thing that is now called by the Lebanese people working in tourism sector “The Forced Tourism of the Well off Displaced Damascenes”.

The chief of Hotel owners association in Lebanese, Mr. Pierre Ashkar has announced in a press conference that the Syrian comers to Lebanese have increased the occupancy rate in the hotels of Beirut from 40% to 65% and 70%, whereas the rate increased in Mount of Lebanon from 20% to 55% after the recent wave of displaced Syrians arrived to the area which had prior a stagnant and almost dead season this year because of the situation; he also stated that the rate of occupancy in the past few years during this time of the year was 100%. He assured that a decision of a decrease in hotel rates of 25 to 50% has been taken. Notable that Beirut is a middle stop on the way of displaced Syrians where they stop temporarily before they head for their final destinations in other Arab and Western countries such as Cairo, Dubai, and Europe.

Hotels get full as the bombing escalates

Fatima, the receptionist, realises that there will be no more lonesomeness in the hotel anymore as long as the bombardment continues as there will always be someone seeking a safe haven; but she worries that the upper class will start running out of their savings especially that their suffering started to appear publicly in light of the state of paralysis the private sector is going through as well as the leakage of wealth and capital away from the country.